So, All-Star Saturday night — one of my favorite nights — wasn’t that great. The three point contest never saw a guy get insanely hot and the dunk contest was filled with too many props — human or otherwise — for my liking.
I’ve always thought the key to a really good dunk contest is really simple: get some insanely athletic guys doing really clean, highlight level dunks on their first try. That’s what Jordan/Nique did, it’s what Vince Carter did, and it’s what LaVine and Gordon did last year. This year had some of that with Robinson and Jones showing off their amazing athleticism, but I think it also speaks to their relative obscurity as players that even this wasn’t enough. Oh well. Maybe next year.
All-Star Saturday is one of my favorite nights the league we love has to offer. No, it’s not a playoff game or a league championship deciding contest, but it’s a night where the NBA gets to put on a show for its fans, offering some of the most skilled, athletic, and creative thinkers a chance to display their talents to the world.
There are few things more captivating, to me at least, than a great dunker playing to the crowd or one of the world’s best shooters getting hot and inviting you into his realm where that orange rim seemingly transforms into a hula-hoop sized cylinder. Tonight, then, I am hoping for a show and even if some parts will surely let us down, I expect we will get it one way or another.
Of course, nights like this are more fun when you have a rooting interest and if you’re a Lakers’ fan you have one tonight. For only the 3rd time in the history of the event, a Laker will compete in the 3-point contest, with Nick Young getting his proverbial shot to show he belongs in the conversation as one of the world’s best shooters.
The Lakers may be on a break for another week, but a few of their players are in New Orleans for All-Star Weekend to compete in various events. The first of those commitments is tonight when D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram join up on the U.S. Team in the Rising Stars Challenge to face off against their World Team counterparts. A full roster and background of the game can be found here.
It’s a nice honor to be included in this game, but this isn’t something which should be be taken too seriously be fans since history tells us it certainly will not be by the players involved. There will be little to no defense played, players will be gunning for highlights, and guys will be hunting for their shots. It’s less a basketball game and more a game of 2K brought to life by 19-22 year olds.
In other words, this game will have little to no intensity and we’re all (including the coaches of both teams) just going to have to live with that.
Since he made the announcement, it’s been a gradual sinking in that this will be Kobe’s last year. A tribute video here, a road crowd chanting his name there, and a whole lot of post game pressers with introspective questions and candid answers have followed and the realization that this is it becomes realer daily. This will be Kobe’s last season.
Today will be his last All-Star game. What a run it has been.
The Rising Stars Challenge featured the Lakers’ backcourt of the future and both D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson represented themselves and the team well. The game did not feature a lot of defense and was mostly played at a tempo and intensity resembling a glorified scrimmage, but it was still nice to see both players do well.
This is foreign territory for me as a Lakers’ fan. I cannot recall the last Laker to participate in the “Rising Stars Challenge” even when it was the Rookie/Sophomore game. Last year Jordan Clarkson did not breakout until after the all-star game and, of course, Julius Randle was lost in the 1st game of the season. Randle isn’t here this year — I’m not going to vent about this, but the format of Team USA vs. Team World probably kept several American born players out of this game who are deserving, Randle included — but Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell are.
That was my thought yesterday morning when thinking about today’s game. All-Star Saturday and Sunday are usually two of my favorite days every season. Call me a sucker, but I love the pageantry of the events on Saturday evening and the transition to Sunday where the game’s best players showcase their talent.
This year, I am still excited, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a bit different. Not only is Kobe out, but the game really is transitioning to the younger generation of players — especially out West where Lillard and Curry are making their first appearances in the game and Aldridge, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Love (who isn’t new to the game, but was named a starter for the first time) are all a new(ish) crop of players who are trying to become mainstays.
The weekend also took on a different feel with the change in formats to Saturday’s events. The night became a battle of the conferences where East vs. West was a more dominant theme than a conversation about 90’s hip-hop. In some cases the events only felt slightly different with little drop off in quality. I thought the Skills Challenge actually was improved with the team format. And while the three point contest could have been a bit better in the early rounds, we still got a good finish with Bradley Beal and Marco Belinelli dueling in the Finals. Beal’s six consecutive makes in that last round to force an “overtime” was great theatre and Belinelli closing the door in that extra frame also gave us a climactic finish.
The dunk contest, however, left a lot to be desired.
I won’t get into all aspects of the contest that I found disappointing, but I did feel especially letdown by how the entire thing ended. After getting through the freestyle rounds, I was actually looking forward to the battle rounds where guys would show off some of their best dunks. And heading into the final battle John Wall got everyone in the arena buzzing with this fantastic throwdown:
But just as quickly as fans were into the event it was over. Wall’s dunk ended up sweeping the battle round in the East’s favor which, due to the format of the competition, ended the night. There would be no dunk off between the night’s best dunkers. No true defense of Terrence Ross’ title. No Paul George vs. John Wall final battle. No anything.
John Wall’s dunk was so impressive it actually left us disappointed that an awful contest ended.
Heading into tonight, then, I just hope that we get a better show. No, Kobe won’t be playing and for some Lakers’ fans that may take some of the luster off this game. As I noted up top, it certainly will be a bit strange without him. But tonight’s contest will still be the best collection of talent seen on a basketball court this year. Not only are they the league’s elite players, some are just coming into their own as stars and will be making what will be their first of many more appearances in this game.
As with any all-star game, one of the things I’m looking forward to most — besides those special singular plays that only these guys can provide — is the individual match ups that have the potential to advance (or in some cases, trigger) a rivalry. So give me some possessions where LeBron and Durant go at each other. Let me see Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving have their moments of going back and forth. I also wouldn’t mind some old school battles in the paint between Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard.
As always, though, what I truly want is a close game at the end. A five or six point game with under 5 minutes allows the coaches to insert their best players to decide the game. It also turns what is meant to be a fun showcase into a game where each side allows their competitiveness to take over to try and get a win. Guys start playing hard on both ends and we get to see who really can raise their game and stand out amongst the game’s very best. Let’s see Durant hit a dagger jumper with LeBron draped all over him defensively. Let’s see Curry hit a crazy step-back with Paul George extending to try and contest. Let’s see the best players playing their best ball with the game close in the final minutes. That’s not asking too much, is it?
The NBA All-Star game is one of my favorite sporting events.
It’s not because the stakes are high (they’re not) or that the result means anything more than some bragging rights for the conference that wins (it doesn’t), but because of the sheer amount of talent that’s on the floor playing the game at its highest level. (At least when the fourth quarter comes and both teams bear down and try to win.)
The NBA is a league of superstars and while there are some who aren’t in this game today (Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo are a few examples), this game still boasts the best players in the world doing what they do best for our entertainment. How can you not love that?
While the Lakers are well represented in this game with Kobe and Dwight starting for the West, my focus isn’t really on them today. To be completely honest, this weekend has been a nice reprieve from all things Lakers. This season has been a trying one not just for the players and team execs, but for the fans.
So, even though I think it’s great (and pretty amazing in his 17th season) that Kobe is in this game again and is showing few signs of it being his last appearance and that Dwight, despite a year that’s not been up to his normal (incredibly high) standards, is his conference’s starting Center again, I’m actually just looking forward to good basketball from the best players without my entire focus being on how far back the Lakers are behind the Rockets for the 8th seed. That stuff can wait for another day.
For me, today is about LeBron, Durant, Wade, and CP3 — four players who lead some of the best teams in the league. It’s about Timmy and KG — two front court legends who are still playing at an extremely high level. It’s about Westbrook and Kyrie — two young PG’s who go about their craft in different ways, but are so damn entertaining for how they play. It’s about first timers like Noah and George; about the walking highlight reel Blake Griffin who will, for the foreseeable future, be a starter in this game. And, of course, I’ll be interested in Kobe and Dwight — two teammates who seem have been mainstays in this game for nearly their entire careers but for the first time team up in this game.
How the game unfolds is anyone’s guess. My two cents are that the game is pretty close throughout, but that the West will take command at some point (likely right before the end of the first half or start of the 2nd). I then envision the East making a run to get the game close down the stretch with LeBron leading the way. And then, in the end, I see the West holding on with some key shot making coming from Durant and Kobe.
A few additional thoughts:
How much will Dwight play? He’s openly spoken about how his back is at around 75% and, of course, he still has a torn labrum. My hope is that he plays around 15 minutes, has his good time, and then takes his seat on the bench while the other big men take most of the minutes.
Will the East’s newcomers show any nerves? Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah, and Paul George are all first timers. I think Noah will play his normal game; he’s a low usage big man and games like this are typically dominated by the guards anyway. Lopez and George, though, are high usage players who are used to scoring the ball and doing multiple things to help their team win. Sometimes, those guys can struggle when it’s their first time on this stage.
Will Pop rest his guys? Timmy has missed games lately with a sore knee and Parker has been carrying a big load for the Spurs this year. I’d imagine he’d give them token minutes and then let them rest up. We’ll see, however.
One of the things I love about this game are the potential for wild lineups. For example, I’d love to see a Paul, Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Griffin lineup just to see all that athleticism and finishing ability flanking Paul. In the East, I’d love to see a Kyrie, Wade, LeBron, Carmelo, and Noah lineup for the mix of elite scoring with Noah’s frenetic energy and passing ability in the middle of it all. There are many other variations, of course.
At the end of the day, the stories will play out and write themselves. I’m just happy we get to watch it all go down. Enjoy the game, folks. It should be a good one.