Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.
Five Things to Watch Out For At the NBA All-Star Weekend
As someone who is a lifelong fan of baseball, basketball, and football, I can conclusively say that the NBA All-Star events have always been my favorite and, of all the major professional sports leagues’ star-studded exhibitions, it is generally regarded as the most entertaining.
The current three-day lineup promises some lower-level action on Friday night followed by a loaded Saturday night schedule of H-O-R-S-E, the Three Point Shootout, and the Slam Dunk Contest, and then finally the midseason hoops celebration wraps up with the All-Star Game itself on Sunday night.
But amidst the teeming mass of flashbulbs and red, white, & blue color schemes, what specific plotlines stand out as the most potentially interesting of the three day extravaganza? I think I've got the answers.
Saturday night’s Slam Dunk Contest is one of the cornerstones of the NBA All-Star festivities and this year, a new and rather interesting wrinkle has been added for the field of contestants – “The Dunk-In.”
The contest field is 75% complete, as the Lakers’ Shannon Brown and Bobcats’ All-Star Gerald Wallace will challenge defending champion Nate Robinson above the rim. However, the fourth spot in the contest proper will be awarded to the winner of the “Dunk-In,” a head-to-head dunk contest between DeMar DeRozan and Eric Gordon (the winner will be chosen by fan voting). The Dunk-In will take place on Friday night, during halftime of the Rookie Challenge (where first year players face off against second year players).
I don’t know if this new part of the competition will have any effect on the theatrics we will later see on Saturday night but at the least, we will get to see some impressive dunks a day earlier than normal (always a good thing). And I wonder how effective the “leaving it all up to the fans” concept will ultimately prove itself to be.
Unfortunately, Chris Paul will miss the game with a knee injury (thereby depriving us of a “four of the best point guards in the league facing each other in tag-team format” scenario) but the game still boasts the first All-Star appearances of Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose in the East, whom we will get to see face off with Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash. Youth and speed against physicality and experience should make for an interesting battle of the backcourts.
Further: while Kidd is an inexplicable injury replacement for Kobe Bryant and Nash has never been known for his defensive prowess, it is just nice to have an All-Star game where each team has at least two (or, in the West’s case, four) true point guards who will be able to expertly maneuver each superstar squad up and down the court on offense. The years of watching players like Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis “run” their respective All-Star teams without any semblance of organization are mercifully way behind us.
In addition to the aforementioned Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, this weekend’s event will also give us our first looks at Kevin Durant, Gerald Wallace, Zach Randolph, Al Horford, David Lee, and Chris Kaman in the Midseason Classic. While they’ll all probably see at least 15 minutes of playing time, I think the greatest amount of intrigue lies with the potential play of Durant, Wallace, and Randolph.
Durant is having an incredible season and to see how he handles the bright lights and the star-studded rosters all around him will probably give us a good idea as to where he will ultimately situate himself, among the league’s elite. Will he relish the chance to challenge and compete against the best in the world? Or will he merely soak it all in, content to wait a few years before challenging guys like Lebron and Wade for their thrones? The future may officially belong to The Durantula as soon as this Valentine’s Day.
For Wallace and Randolph, I think it will be quite interesting to see how these two guys operate on teams loaded with talent. Wallace had a little experience in that area during his time as a bench player for the Sacramento Kings but has not had all that impressive a supporting cast (for any extended period of time) since going to the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. I want to see what he does when the pressure is not necessarily all on him.
Randolph, on the other hand, has had quite the mercurial career, spending a bulk of it with the infamous Portland teams of the early ‘00s (talented groups wrought with endless non-basketball-related issues) before – within three years – questions about his character and work ethic chased him to the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and now, the Memphis Grizzlies.
For whatever reason, Randolph has experienced a miniature renaissance with the Grizzlies, posting personal bests at field goal percentage (.498) and rebounding (11.6, 4.3 offensive) while also averaging 20 points a night. Has some switch finally been flipped in his head, at age 28? Or is he just enjoying the obscurity of Memphis combined with the very young and talented Grizzlies roster? I have no clue but how he performs on Sunday night might give us a good answer.
90,000 fans are expected to attend Sunday night’s conference clash in the new Cowboys Stadium – the largest for any basketball game in the history of the world (for comparison: the average NBA crowd is around 17,000). How will this record-setting crowd affect the game? Will the abundance of tickets allow for the majority of the audience to be actual basketball fans rather than corporate so-and-sos who merely want to be seen? Will the sheer size of the crowd elevate the efforts of the players (or conversely, will that sea of humanity get into anybody’s head)? How many times will we hear about Jerry Jones or the $1 billion price tag? I am riveted.
The Interim Western Alpha Dog
As it is an All-Star Game, neither roster is struggling for talent. However, even on the most loaded teams (see: the 2008 Olympic squad), one player will/must emerge as the Alpha Dog or, “The Guy Who Will Take the Last Shot.” While the East will ultimately have to decide between Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant has always been the clear-cut choice for the West… except for when Kobe Bryant is injured, a position in which he currently finds himself.
So – assuming the game is close – who is taking the last shot for the West, if not Kobe? Carmelo Anthony has one of the best career late-game shooting percentages in the league, Dirk Nowitzki has emerged as an especially clutch scorer this season, Chauncey Billups continues to carry the nickname “Mr. Big Shot,” Steve Nash has an uncanny ability to distribute the ball for three quarters before hitting big shots when his team most needs him, and I don’t think anyone would take the ball out of Kevin Durant’s hands when he’s having a good night.
There is no shortage of options and that bevy of talent might actually become a burden for the West (especially for coach George Karl), which could deliver one of the more interesting finishes we’ve ever had in the All-Star Game.