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.
Good evening, Forum Blue and Gold. This is Phillip Barnett checking in from Houston. I’m in the Toyota Center for the festivities and I’ll be live-blogging all of the events tonight with updates from Texas. Make sure to check back here every 10-15 minutes for new content and follow me on twitter (@imsohideouss) for more frequent quips about All Star Saturday Night.
SHOOTING STARS COMPETITION
7:37 – James Harden’s team kicks this off the Shooting Stars challenge with a solid time of 37.7. They were my favorites coming into this. Westbrook’s team came right in and obliterated their score with a nice 29.5.
The scoring for this competition is a bit awkward as it’s East v. West — so the two times are added for a total of 107.4. Both Western Conference teams didn’t take much time to make the half court shot, I’m not sure if the Eastern Conference is going to replicate the West’s performance.
7:44 – Chris Bosh’s team didn’t exactly come out hot, and finished with a 50-second mark meaning Brook Lopez’s team would need a 17.3 to beat the Western Conference. Eh… not happening. Not only did they not hit the 17-second mark, they ended up with the worst time of the night of 1:07, the same score of the two Western Conference teams combined.
The Western Conference earns 20 points toward the overall conference competition. There is $500,000 worth of charity donations at stake for the winning conference. The West has jumped out to an early lead.
7:53 – For the championship round, Chris Bosh’s team had a worse performance than their first round with a time of 1:29. Dominique Wilkins, a career 31 percent three point shooter, was tasked with hitting the first three for the East, but took a boat load of shots to knock it down. Gothic Ginobili’s Adam Koscielac tweeted this gem:
However, the Russell Westbrook squad couldn’t hit a half court shot after getting off to a huge start early. They got to the half court shot after only about 20 seconds. The Eastern Conference wins 10 points in the overall competition for winning the championship. The West still leads 20-10.
After winning the Shooting Stars competition, Chris Bosh was asked to compare the win to winning the title.”It was so close. It’s so close. Winning is winning, but, you know, it was a good time,” said Bosh. “This is my first time participating in it. So to actually win is pretty cool.”
Here’s the winning round of the Shooting Stars competition, courtesy of SportsCity.com.
8:06 – Jeff Teague didn’t get things off to a great start for the Eastern Conference. He started off missing passes, then took a few attempts to make the jumper, then missed a few more passes, then missed the layup to end the night. His 49.4 was easily eclipsed by Brandon Knight’s 32.2. He missed a few jumpers, but he has a pretty clean round. Drew Holiday was even cleaner with only one missed shot. Holiday’s final time was 29.3, which moves him into the championship round. The combined time is 150.9, which is what the Western Conference will have to surpass to win the team competition.
8:13 – The hometown favorite Jeremy Lin didn’t get off to the best start with a time of 35.8, but he got the Western Conference off to a better start than the Eastern Conference. Damien Lillard had the cleanest round of the night with no missed shots or passes. His total time was 28.8. Tony Parker, the defending champion, ended up with the worst time of the night with 48.7 and lost the team competition for the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference now has a 40-20.
8:21 – Jrue Holiday got the championship round started off with a sub-par 35.6 round. He missed an early pass and a couple jump shots to put him in a tough spot. Damien Lillard, who is the front runner for rookie of the year, had a much quicker round of 29.8. He missed two passes and one jump shot, but was much quicker from spot-to-spot and gave the Western Conference annother 10 points. The East is still leading though, 40-30.
Here’s Damien Lillard’s winning round in the Skills Competition:
Zach Harper tweeted this brilliant idea for the Skills Competition:
The last shot should really be a floater. If you miss that, then you can lay it in.
8:42 – Stephen Curry got off to a pretty slow start in the 3-point shoot out, but picked things up in the last two racks to finish with 17. Ryan Anderson was the exact opposite. He started off hot, but cooled off at the third rack, yet he still finished with more than Curry with 18. Bonner started off 5-5 after the first rack and ended on top for the Western Conference with 19 points. That’s an overall total score of 54 for the Western Conference. That’s the standard that the Eastern Conference is going to beat. Bonner’s has one of the most mechanically pure forms I’ve ever seen.
8:53 – The Eastern Conference off to another slow start, this time in the 3-point contest. Kyrie Irving got things started off with 18 points, and watch as Paul George only record 10 points and Steve Novak only record 17, even after a pretty hot start. The Eastern Conference surrenders 40 points to the West after their poor performance in the team round. The score heading into the championship is 70-40.
9:00 – In the championship round, Kyrie Irving was hitting early and often. He finished with an overall score of 23 — two off off the all time record. Matt Bonner got off to a slow start, heated up, but couldn’t knock down a key money ball on the fourth rack to keep him close. The Red Mamba finished with 20 points and Kyrie’s excellent All-Star Weekend continues. I enjoyed this Josh Zavdil tweet during Kyrie’s run.
Here’s Kyrie Irving’s winning round from the 3-point contest.
9:26 – Gerald Green got things started with a sick off the side of the back board alley-oop. He almost hit his head on the rim. It was pretty absurd and it earned him a perfect 50. Up next was James White, he walked into the arena with a flight crew and had the biggest buzz before his dunk. Unfortunately, he was a bit disappointing with a free throw line dunk from a foot and a half in front of the line. His leaping ability is impressive, but the dunk was underwhelming considering what we’ve seen in the past. Last for the Eastern Conference was Terrance Ross with a slick behind the back 360 that earned him a perfect 50.
For the Western Conference, there wasn’t anything too impressive. Kenneth Faried threw it off the backboard, caught it after a 360, but jammed it down kind of weak. Eric Bledsoe tried to throw one down from an alley-oop between the legs, but failed on a few attempts before throwing down a regular dunk. Jeremy Evans was the most impressive with grabbing the ball from a sitting Mark Eaton and throwing down a reverse on the other side of the rim.
9:39 – The second round of dunks for the Eastern Conference were pretty unimpressive. Both James White and Gerald Green failed to make their dunk while Terrance Ross made a pretty simple off the bounce self alley-oop dunk. The Western Conference was much better. Faried caught an alley-oop and threw it between his legs before throwing it down. Eric Bledsoe caught a self alley-oop and 360’d before throwing it through the iron. Jeremy Evans grabbed two balls and dunked them both after a 360. The WC dunks gave them the team competition win and a 140-70 lead.
10:03 – The final round showed some pretty impressive dunks. Jeremy Evans got things started off by dunking over a covered easel. After the dunk, he revealed a painting of him dunking over an easel. Ross followed that up by putting on a Vince Carter jersey and caught a pass off the side of the back board and threw down a 360 a la young VC.
The second round of dunks saw Evans catch a pass from Dahntay Jones and nearly jumped through the roof before throwing it down. Ross brought out a ball boy and jumped over him while going between the legs for the jam.
Ross ended up winning the dunk contest after the fan vote and the Western Conference ended up winning the conference battle. Check out some of the better dunks from tonight’s performances:
Terrance Ross Behind the back 360
Kenneth Faried through the legs
Eric Bledsoe sick reverse jam
Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.
On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.
Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers. Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:
1984 Slam Dunk Contest
Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:
Though still immortalized:
1987 3-Point Contest
Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.
1988 3-Point Contest
This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.
Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?
1994 Rookie Game
In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.
1995 Rookie Game
The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.
(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)
1995 Slam Dunk Contest
In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.
Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.
After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy
(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)
2004 Skills Challenge
Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?
Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?
Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.
2007 Skills Challenge
Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?
With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.
That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.
2008 Rising Stars
A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).
It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.
2010 Slam Dunk Contest
They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.
Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!
The third episode of L.A.’s hallway series came and went last night. The game was preceded by news about the health of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. He’s been a true lion in the league for many years now and one of the enduring truths in life is that our winters inevitably come. As for on-court action, about the best that can be said is that the team gave it a shot. Kobe Bryant had a couple age-defying dunks and 11 assists. Plus the bench put up 41 points so there’s that.
There may be a book written some day about this crazy mixed-up season. It has defied expectations and logic although some will argue the point. There were plenty of warning signs – the notion of banking on a newly-arrived superstar who was still recovering from surgery, the amalgamation of aging players and the very real potential for systematic conflict. Still more may point out that most of us were willing to drink the Kool-Aid. And why not? It tasted just fine at the time and was loaded with incendiary promise. And here we are – the Lakers are in still in tenth place in the west and you can only spin that so many ways for so long.
The NBA All-Star break is sometimes seen as a midway point in the basketball season but it isn’t really. It’s a few days off, a chance for some players to rest their aching limbs and for others to compete and socialize in an annual rite of passage. Both the Lakers and Clippers will be well-represented and when the party’s over, teams will find themselves looking down a shotgun barrel stretch run to the end of the season. For some it won’t really matter – they’re already out of hunt and simply jockeying for draft position. As for the Lakers, they’ll have 28 games left to try and slip through a rapidly-closing window. In the meantime, enjoy the respite – there will be plenty of ASW coverage right here.