The 75th NBA season will be different, that is for sure.

Having completed the previous campaign in a Florida bubble due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league starts a reduced 72-game schedule on Tuesday. That is not the only change, though, as a play-in tournament will decide the final two qualification spots in each conference for the playoffs.

So, with free agency long over, trades made and the 2020 draft done and dusted, every franchise starts with a fresh sense of hope and a clean slate.

Ahead of the opening games, here are six players to keep an eye on during the coming weeks and months, including some intriguing rookies and a familiar face now in a new home.

 

LAMELO BALL (CHARLOTTE HORNETS)

Ball will garner plenty of attention in his rookie campaign, even if the guard may have to go through some growing pains with the Charlotte Hornets. 

Selected third in the draft, the brother of Lonzo and LiAngelo has the passing skills and court vision to produce highlight plays. While only 19, it should be remembered he has already played professionally in both Lithuania and Australia. 

His three preseason outings for the Hornets produced averages of 10 points, 5.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds. Dwyane Wade was suitably impressed by what he saw, tweeting: "So breaking news: LaMelo Ball is a problem!"

SADDIQ BEY (DETROIT PISTONS)

Have the Pistons found a gem in Bey, the 19th pick in the draft? The shooting guard went to DeMatha Catholic High School – the same establishment as Victor Oladipo and Markelle Fultz, as well as Jerai, Jerian and Jerami Grant – before moving on to Villanova. 

His final year in college saw Bey shoot 45.1 per cent from three-point range, placing him fifth in the category for Division I players with a minimum of 150 attempts from deep. 

Those numbers offer promise for a Detroit team that averaged 107.2 points per game in the 2019-20 season, ranking them a lowly 25th in the league. 

CARIS LEVERT (BROOKLYN NETS)

The focus in Brooklyn will be on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as the Nets finally get to put their two big-name free agency recruits from July 2019 in tandem together. 

Still, the dynamic duo will need help. LeVert averaged 27.4 points in five games during March, including shooting 44.1 per cent from three. He can expect to get open looks this season too, with opposing teams more concerned with his superstar team-mates.

While that is a small sample size, the shooting guard's presence has made a clear difference for the Nets in the past. In the 45 games he played last season, the team averaged 114.7 points. That number dipped to 107 when he did not feature. 

CHRIS PAUL (PHOENIX SUNS)

Paul is preparing to start a third straight season on a different team and, while far from a new name, considering he was drafted back in 2005 and is a 10-time All-Star, it will be fascinating to see what difference the veteran point guard can make to the Suns. 

His solitary year with the Oklahoma City Thunder saw him become just the third player to average at least 17 points and 6.0 assists when aged 34 or older. The others to manage that? LeBron James (also last season) and Kobe Bryant (2012-13). 

Now he joins a Phoenix roster that dazzled during their stay in the NBA bubble, despite eventually missing out on the playoffs. Devin Booker should certainly relish having Paul alongside him in the backcourt, while center and former No.1 overall pick Deandre Ayton should also benefit. 

OBI TOPPIN (NEW YORK KNICKS)

Toppin should feel right at home in the NBA; the Brooklyn-born power forward was drafted in the first round by the Knicks. 

The 22-year-old averaged 20 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 63.3 per cent from the field for Dayton in college basketball last season, numbers good enough to see him named national player of the year. 

Denied the opportunity to have a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Toppin will hope to make an instant impact in the Big Apple. The opportunity to play regular minutes – whether it be off the bench or as a starter – makes him a real contender to be this season's top rookie performer. 

COBY WHITE (CHICAGO BULLS)

Coby White was a much-needed positive for the Bulls in an otherwise dismal season. They will at least be well rested having not been involved in the Orlando bubble, while Billy Donovan is now in as coach to try and improve results.  

Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft, White averaged 13.2 points in his debut season. That is the fourth most by a Bulls rookie since 2000-01, behind only Derrick Rose, Lauri Markkanen and Ben Gordon. 

However, that number rose to 20.9 points (as well as 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists) from February 1 onwards – and there have been positive signs from the guard during a shortened preseason, too. 

Chris Paul has been traded to the Phoenix Suns in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to multiple reports.

The veteran point guard, a 10-time All-Star, was dealt from the Houston Rockets to the Thunder last offseason but is now on the move again to a Suns team with an intriguing young core.

Paul and forward Abdel Nader will head to Phoenix in exchange in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr, Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque as well as a 2022 first-round pick.

The acquisition of Paul gives the Suns a veteran facilitator for shooting guard Devin Booker and center DeAndre Ayton.

Phoenix went 34-39 last season, their best record since the 2014-15 season, going 8-0 in the NBA bubble after the campaign resumed following the coronavirus-enforced suspension.

They missed out on a return to the playoffs, finishing 10th in the Western Conference, but Paul's arrival will fuel hopes they can take the next step in 2020-21 as Booker and Ayton continue to develop.

Booker averaged 26.6 points per game for the second successive season, leading the team in that category. Ayton had 18.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

For the Thunder, who lost in seven games in the first round of the playoffs to the Rockets, Oubre gives them another frontcourt scorer to go with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the team leader with 19 points a game in 2019-20.

Rubio can help fill the void at point guard with Dennis Schroder seemingly set to join Paul in leaving for pastures new, the German expected to link up with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Suns hold the 10th overall selection in Wednesday's draft, while the Thunder will have to wait until pick number 25 to add a rookie to their roster.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were both named in the All-NBA First Team on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Lakers prepare to face the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

The All-NBA selections were announced as the playoffs hot up in Orlando, although the Lakers duo were the only remaining members of the First Team.

James and Davis were joined by James Harden, whose Houston Rockets they beat in the second round, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo were both unanimous votes.

The Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and playoff nemesis Nikola Jokic headlined the Second Team. Jokic led the Nuggets past the Clippers on Tuesday to complete another remarkable series fightback.

Damian Lillard was also included after carrying the Portland Trail Blazers into the postseason, alongside veteran Chris Paul, who impressed following his trade from the Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pascal Siakam - disappointing in the playoffs for defending champions the Toronto Raptors - made up the selection.

Meanwhile, in the Third Team, the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum and the Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler are both still alive as Eastern Conference Finals opponents.

Russell Westbrook, part of the Paul trade, got recognition, too, and was joined by Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons, the latter ending the season injured.

Jimmy Butler put on a show as the Miami Heat topped the Milwaukee Bucks 115-104 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the NBA playoffs.

Butler posted a playoff career-high 40 points to lead the Heat past the top-seeded Bucks at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida on Monday.

A five-time All-Star, Butler scored 14 of his points in the final quarter as fifth seeds the Heat upstaged Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

Butler became just the third player in Miami's postseason history to have at least 40 points, following in the footsteps of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

Heat team-mate Goran Dragic added 27 points for Miami, whose 5-0 start to the playoffs is tied for the best ever by a team seeded fifth or lower, per STATS. The Washington Wizards also started 5-0 as the fifth seeds in 2015.

Despite outscoring the Heat 40-29 in the opening quarter, the Bucks were unable to hold on as the Heat's defence starred.

Reigning MVP Antetokounmpo had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks, who were led by Khris Middleton's 28 points.

The Heat and Bucks will meet again in Game 2 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced a Game 7 against the Houston Rockets after prevailing 104-100.

Facing elimination in the Western Conference opening round, veteran Chris Paul came up big for the Thunder with 28 points and seven rebounds.

Trailing 98-92 with just over four minutes remaining, former Rockets guard Paul was clutch for the Thunder, nailing a pair of three-pointers down the stretch to lift his team.

James Harden recorded 32 points and eight rebounds for the beaten Rockets, who face the Thunder in Wednesday's decider, while Russell Westbrook had seven turnovers against his former team.

 

Jazz face Nuggets

The Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets will go head-to-head in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round matchup on Tuesday. The Boston Celtics and defending champions the Toronto Raptors are also in action in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series.

An emotional Chris Paul praised the "huge" work of his NBA colleagues and said he will never forget the meetings that followed the Milwaukee Bucks' strike this week.

The Bucks refused to take the court against the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of their first-round series after the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Blake, a black man, was repeatedly shot in the back by police in the team's home state of Wisconsin.

The incident prompted the latest in a series of demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality, with all playoff games on Wednesday and Thursday subsequently postponed.

A return to action was agreed for Saturday but only after the 13 teams present in Orlando held lengthy meetings to discuss a route forward.

Resumption plans came with commitments from the league that placed a particular emphasis upon enabling voter participation in the 2020 general election this November.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Paul had a key role, as the NBPA president, and told the media of his pride at the meetings while again describing his pain.

"Fifteen years in this league and I've never seen a thing like it," Paul said. "Honestly.

"I wasn't the oldest one in the room - I think Udonis Haslem was - but the voices that were heard, I'll never forget it, I'll never forget it.

"For a lot of us, you get a chance to read and see pictures of the Cleveland Summit, those who came before us, the Muhammad Alis, the Jim Browns, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, and how powerful they were.

"We're not saying that we're that, but what we're doing in our league right now is huge.

"I think for the young guys in our league, they get a chance to see how guys are really coming together and speaking and see real change, real action.

"Because guys are tired. Like, I mean, tired. When I say 'tired,' we're not physically tired, we're just tired of seeing the same thing over and over again, right?

"I was blessed and fortunate enough to talk to Jacob Blake's father - he was in my home state of Winston-Salem for a while - and it's emotional, especially when you're a black man.

"You know that when [Bucks star] George Hill spoke, he talked about being a black man and he was hurt. He was hurt. We're all hurt.

"We're all tired of just seeing the same thing over and over again and everybody just expects us to be okay, just because we get paid great money. You know, we're human. We have real feelings.

"And I'm glad that we got the chance to get in a room together to talk with one another and not just cross paths and say, 'good luck in your game today'."

With the regular season over, it's time for business in the Orlando bubble.

The Portland Trail Blazers completed the NBA's playoff bracket with their play-in win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.

Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks, the LeBron-James led Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard's Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams vying for supremacy at Walt Disney World Resort.

With the postseason scheduled to start on Monday, we use STATS data to preview the first-round series.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)

Eyeing their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks head into the opening-round series struggling for form.

The Bucks, who went 52-8 from their first 60 games, recorded a 4-9 win-loss ratio from their last 13 fixtures – becoming the first team in NBA history to have more losses in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire season prior to that.

Inside the bubble but in familiar surroundings, the Magic have the chance to snap a playoff drought, despite the odds being stacked against them.

Not since 2010 have the Magic won a playoff series. Orlando swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks en route to the Conference finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics. The Magic have since suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Hawks (2011), Indiana Pacers (2012) and Toronto Raptors (2019).

Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)

Defending champions the Raptors have form on their side in pursuit of back-to-back championships.

Toronto went 27-5 over their last 32 games, easily the best record in the NBA during that period – ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10), Los Angeles Clippers (20-10), Bucks (20-11) and Celtics (21-13).

Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most clutch players this season, making an NBA-high seven go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Dinwiddie's seven for 13 is better than the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (five), Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets (both four).

Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)

The Celtics renew hostilities with rivals the 76ers, having won the past four series between the two teams – Philadelphia have not claimed a series against Boston in the playoffs since 1982.

Philadelphia's hopes will rest on Joel Embiid in the absence of injured fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, who is the only player in NBA history to average 8.0-plus rebounds and 8.0-plus assists per game for his career.

The 76ers are 35-22 (.614 per cent) with Simmons in the team, while they are just 7-8 (.467 per cent) without the Australian star on the court. Philadelphia also allow more opposition points per game in his absence – 113.6 compared to 107.2.

Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)

All eyes will be on Indiana's T.J. Warren, who averaged 31.0 points per game with a .664 effective field-goal percentage this month following the restart.

Since 1985-86, the players with 30.0-plus points and a .650-plus effective field-goal percentage in a month (minimum five game played) are Charles Barkley (1990), Stephen Curry (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Antetokounmpo (2017 and 2019) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2019).

With Heat pair Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, Miami are the first NBA team to have two undrafted players averaging 13.0-plus points per game in the same season – minimum 70 per cent of team games played – since the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956-57 (Joe Graboski and Neil Johnston).

 

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)

Making their first postseason appearance since 2013, the Lakers – who have a 74.6 per cent chance of winning this series using Stats Perform's advanced simulation tool – are one of the favourites to go all the way thanks to James and Anthony Davis.

James and Davis have combined well in LA, where the former has supplied 184 assists for the All-Star recruit this season – the most to one player in 2019-20, ahead of Damian Lillard to Hassan Whiteside (132). Three-time champion and four-time MVP James is also the second-oldest player to average 10 assists or more in a season in NBA history, with Steve Nash averaging 10.0-plus assists in each of his final three campaigns.

This will be the second playoff meeting between James and Carmelo Anthony. James and the Heat eliminated Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round in 2012. Both averaged 27.8 points in the series. James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, while Anthony was the third pick. Their matchups date back to high school, when LeBron was at St. Vincent St. Mary's and Carmelo at Oak Hill Academy.

Portland's go-to man Lillard leads the NBA in scoring inside the bubble at 37.6 per game, including the play-in clash. The Trail Blazers star is averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. He has contributed to Portland averaging a league-high 126.0 points per game at Walt Disney World Resort, while the Lakers have only managed 106.4 points per game – the second worst behind the Washington Wizards.

How about most points per game by team-mate duos? Lillard and CJ McCollum (52.2) are second to James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.5) but ahead of third-placed James and Davis (51.4).

Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)

Can Leonard claim consecutive NBA titles after leading the Raptors to their first champion last season? Well it all begins against the Mavericks.

Leonard – the 2019 Finals MVP – averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game this season, while he averaged 30.5 during last year's playoffs. The four-time All-Star has also averaged 31.0 points per game in three games against the Mavericks this term, with the Clippers sweeping the season series.

Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks boast the second-highest offensive rating ever – 113.7 – behind last year's Golden State Warriors (113.9). The Clippers have a 111.1 rating, tied with the Trail Blazers for second this season.

Doncic is averaging 30.0 points, 10.1 assists and 9.7 rebounds in the bubble. The reigning Rookie of the Year also has three triple-doubles, including a 20-rebound triple-double.

Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)

A Jazz team boasting the likes of Joe Ingles and Mitchell are the best three-point shooting team at 38.0 per cent, though Utah went 2-5 in their last seven regular-season games – allowing 110-plus points per game.

Rudy Gobert is also one shy of 250 career double-doubles as the Jazz look to avenge their season sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, though each game was decided by six or fewer points.

The Nuggets made the Conference semi-finals last season, snapping a five-year playoff drought. Jovic will be key for Denver, having averaged 7.0 assists per game for a second successive season – the most by any center in the NBA.

Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)

It will be a reunion as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul face their former teams.

The Rockets have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three straight seasons and their hopes will depend on the team's starting five – their starters are averaging 89.1 points per game, the most in the league.

Former Thunder star Harden is also coming off his third consecutive season averaging 30 or more points per game (34.3 in 2019-20). He is the franchise's all-time leader in postseason assists (510) and second in points (2,061) behind Hakeem Olajuwon (3,727).

Westbrook, who arrived from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season, is second all-time for Oklahoma City in playoff points (2,489), behind Kevin Durant's 2,620, third in rebounds (686), first in assists (778) and first in steals (184).

The Thunder, boasting ex-Rockets guard Paul, have not progressed beyond the first round of the postseason since 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Conference Finals.

Jimmy Butler explained his intentional charge on Chris Paul in the Miami Heat's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder by saying "You gotta deal with me" if you go for one of his team-mates.

After knocking the ball away from Duncan Robinson and out of bounds in the closing stages of the second quarter on Wednesday, Paul exchanged words with the Heat guard having seemingly hurt his hand in the process.

The 10-time All-Star intercepted the subsequent inbound pass from Butler to Robinson, ripping possession away and throwing it back at him, with the rebound going out for a Thunder ball.

When the Heat came back up the floor on their next possession, Butler got Paul on a switch and intentionally barrelled him over as he drove to the rim.

Explaining the incident after the game, Butler said: "You're not gonna throw the ball at my team-mate like that. So yeah, I'll get a turnover. I'll get an offensive foul.

"We don't do that here. You mess with one of my guys, especially one of my shooters, then you gotta deal with me and everybody else."

Robinson said: "I shot-faked in the corner and I told him [Paul] I should've shot it. We went back and forth a little bit, nothing out of the ordinary for an NBA game.

"He's a really talented player, I have a lot of respect for him, but he also competes and I'm not one to back down from a challenge in that regard.

"I have a ton of respect for him but it was just a heat-of-the-moment thing."

Mike Muscala made a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining to earn the Thunder a 116-115 victory against the Heat, who will face the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.

"We gonna go about everything the same we always do. Get better come tomorrow, make sure our bodies are right," said Butler about the tie with the Pacers.

"We've still got them one more time before the playoffs start, so we gotta start by sending a message then."

The Thunder will go up against the Houston Rockets in the first round, pitting Paul against his former team and James Harden, who he reportedly fell out with prior to being traded last year.

National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul said players were eager to return when it is safe to do so.

The NBA season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 308,000 people worldwide.

The United States has been hardest hit by COVID-19, recording more than 1.4 million cases with a death toll exceeding 88,000.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Paul said players were eager to return to action, telling ESPN on Friday: "Obviously we want to play.

"Oh man, we want to play. We want to play bad. I think that's the consensus among the guys around the league.

"We want it to be obviously as safe as possible, but the biggest thing is, we miss the game."

Paul said it was up to players and officials to work out a plan if they are to get back underway amid the risk.

"What is normal now? So I think that's what we're trying to figure out, what it looks like, so until we find those answers and we can come up with an actual plan, right now it's basically sit and wait," he said.

"The virus is in control."

Oklahoma City Thunder star Chris Paul said players need more than two weeks to prepare to play NBA games amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA has been suspended since March 11 due to the COVID-19 crisis, which has killed at least 184,100 people worldwide.

It remains to be seen when, and if, the 2019-20 season will resume as the United States struggles to contain the outbreak following more than 848,700 confirmed cases and over 47,600 deaths in the country.

While the NBA remains committed to resuming the campaign, commissioner Adam Silver said there is still no timetable for a possible restart.

On the situation, 10-time All-Star Paul told reporters via a conference call on Wednesday: "I'm just letting you know – and I don't think the league would do it anyway – but if they were like, 'Hey, you got two weeks, and then we're going,' that's not going to happen.

"That's not going to happen. Whatever the amount of time is, just know that players will have the input, the say-so, because we're the ones playing. That comes first. We don't ever want to put guys in a situation where their injury risk is higher than ever before."

Paul, 34, added: "I get what we're dealing with right now, a lot of hypotheticals, but I don't know.

"This is the thing with having 450 players in the league and being in a situation like this, where some guys have access to weight rooms, some guys don't.

"Some guys have access to facilities where they can train or do this or can run. That's why, whatever happens – and I say this, and I mean this – we always go back to the players."

"We just want to play," Paul continued. "We're trying to figure out what that looks like. Right now, I'm just focused on playing, playing in some form or fashion.

"This is a situation where no one knows. The virus is actually in complete control. I seriously tried to answer things the best I could, but there are things where it's not like I've got the answers and I'm just not telling you."

The NBA may be on hold and the start of the WNBA delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but basketball fans will have a new game to watch in April.

An announcement by the NBA and National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on Thursday confirmed a game of HORSE involving eight players and legends from the two leagues will begin on April 12 and be televised.

The challenge, which will be headlined by 10-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and 2020 Hall of Fame inductee Tamika Catchings.

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, WNBA All-Star Allie Quigley, Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley and NBA Finals MVPs Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce complete the line-up.

Each of the contestants will take part in isolation from their home courts.

Young and Billups will battle for the right to face the victor of a meeting between Catchings and Conley for a place in the semi-finals. LaVine must take on Pierce, with Paul up against Quigley on the other side of the draw.

The semi-finals and the championship game will take place on April 16.

State Farm is sponsoring the competition and will donate over $200,000 on behalf of the competitors.

Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 157-155 in the revamped NBA All-Star Game in Chicago on Sunday.

Unlike previous years, every quarter counted in the name of charity at the United Center, where the new format was unveiled for the showpiece event.

Each of the first three quarters started with the score at 0-0 and lasted the standard 12 minutes, with the game clock turned off for the final period and a final target score set.

The cumulative score of the first three quarters was 133-124 in favour of Team Giannis. The final target score was set by taking the leading team's cumulative score and adding 24 – the 24 representing Kobe Bryant's jersey number.

LeBron James and his team earned bragging rights in the 69th edition of the All-Star Game – hometown hero and Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis (20 points) making one of two free throws to beat Giannis Antetokounmpo's side.

While Davis scored the winning point, Kawhi Leonard (30 points) received the All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award, renamed in honour of the five-time NBA champion.

Bryant, who tragically died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others last month, was honoured prior to tip-off.

Magic Johnson led an eight-second moment of silence for Lakers legend Bryant and former commissioner David Stern as both All-Star teams came together to hold hands, before delivering a heartfelt speech.

Team LeBron made a fast start, outscoring Team Giannis 53-41 in the first period before the latter won the second period 51-30.

Neither team could be split in the third, though Team Giannis went into the fourth quarter leading Team LeBron – who rallied to win for the third successive year.

James and Chris Paul finished with 23 points each, while Ben Simmons (17) and James Harden (11) were also in double-digits for Team LeBron.

Team Giannis were led by Antetokounmpo (25 points, 11 rebounds), Joel Embiid (22 points, 10 rebounds), Kemba Walker (23 points) and Rudy Gobert (21 points, 11 rebounds).

Devin Booker was the most notable omission as six first-timers won NBA All-Star selection among the 14 reserves named on Thursday.

Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook headlined the list of players selected by NBA coaches to round out the roster options for Team LeBron and Team Giannis.

Phoenix Suns guard Booker was denied a place despite averaging 27.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists through 44 games this season.

Oklahoma City Thunder veteran Paul, Houston Rockets star Westbrook, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz youngster Donovan Mitchell snatched Western Conference guard spots, the latter handed his maiden selection alongside team-mate and fellow first-timer Rudy Gobert.

Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis will also be among the newcomers at United Center in Chicago on February 16.

Suns general manager and three-time NBA champion James Jones questioned Booker's absence.

"I've played with and against multiple All-Stars in this league and Devin Booker is undoubtedly an NBA All-Star," Jones said in a statement.

Frenchman Gobert's inclusion alongside Sabonis (Lithuania), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Nikola Jokic (Serbia) plus starters Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Pascal Siakam (Cameroon) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) lifts the number of international players to eight, a record for an All-Star Game.

The 2020 edition will feature several format changes to honour Kobe Bryant after the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Among them will be a 'target score' to chase in a timeless fourth quarter, the figure being the leading team's tally after three periods plus 24 points - representing the number Bryant wore during the second half of his glittering NBA career.

LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, the designated captains, will select their teams from the available player pool on February 6.

 

Eastern Conference reserves:

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)

Western Conference reserves:

Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)

Chris Paul is adamant he will not waive the final year of his contract to be traded to a contender for the NBA championship.

The Houston Rockets sent Paul, first-round picks for 2024 and 2026 and pick swaps in 2021 and 2025 to the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire Russell Westbrook in the offseason.

It was expected the Thunder, who gained more draft capital and the promising Shai Gilgeous-Alexander by letting Paul George team up with Kawhi Leonard at the Los Angeles Clippers, would quickly look to move the nine-time All-Star on.

However, Paul has remained in Oklahoma City and led them to a 25-19 record – their latest match a 112-107 triumph over the Rockets at Toyota Center – making them surprise playoff contenders in the Western Conference.

Paul's $44.2million player option for the 2021-22 season is seen as a major obstacle in potential trade talks, but the 15-year point guard has no plan to give it up in pursuit of a ring.

"No chance. That's not happening. Nope," Paul told Sports Illustrated.

He continued: "People always try to tell your story. I'm just in the moment. If something happens and I get moved, I'll make adjustments. For now, I get to hoop. I get to play. My body feels good. I'm excited.

"I am without my wife and my kids, and when I get to practice, I'm excited to be there. I know we're going to compete. We have a fun team. That's all you want. A chance and an opportunity to compete.

"I guess I'm just different. Analytics may say this, the odds may say this. When the ball goes up that night, I think we have a chance to win."

Paul was surprised by the speed of his trade from the Rockets and the Thunder intend to do all they can to ensure he is happy with his next location if it comes to him being moved on.

"Outside of the immediate aftermath of when we initially traded for Chris, we haven't talked at all about the future or felt we needed to," said OKC general manager Sam Presti.

"Given that the trade happened so quickly for him and took him off guard, we thought it was important to build some trust, some rapport, and approach things collaboratively with his representation to see where his head was with respect to the situation with us. He never flinched, and that gave us confidence.

"His professionalism, his outlook, and his maturity have been on another level. We are going through a transition ourselves, so it's somewhat poetic, how he has returned at this point in the organisational timeline, and how he's elevated our team.

"All I can say is that Chris has been all we could have hoped for and more."

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