Archives For all star game

The big game is finally here.

For one night it’s not about collective bargaining or who should have one the dunk contest or cheering the fact that both Celtics that made the three point contest final got beat by a role player. Actually, there’s always more time for that.

There is a game to play though, so all of that fades to background for now. The best in the world are suiting up and will go at it in an effort to entertain the fans and show off their tremendous skill.

Some things that I’m interested in seeing as the game plays out:

  • Will Kobe go for the MVP? #24 already has three trophies in his collection from the 2002, 2007, and 2009 contests. With the game at Staples and Kobe playing in his town, tonight offers as good a chance as any for him to grab a fourth. Sure, there are other fantastic players that will be gunning for the award. Lebron and Wade are always good choices and I actually anticipate a very good game from Durant as he continues his ascension as one of the best players in the league. But, the hometown players always seem to play very well in these games and with the Lakers not playing well coming into the break this game may serve as an opportunity for Kobe to reinforce the idea that he’s not quite ready to relinquish his grip on the league.
  • How much will the young players play? Westbrook, Love, and Griffin are all first timers. Typically, in these games the young guys cede their minutes to veterans that have a better feel for how these games go. In yesterday’s media session Pop said that he was already joking with the ASG rookies about how little they’d play. However, Griffin and Westbrook are two of the most exciting young players the NBA has to offer so I wonder if Pop will let these young thoroughbreds loose to get out in the open court and generate some highlights for the fans. Considering these guys offer up at least one ridiculous play a game, here’s hoping it happens.
  • Who will fill the PG void? Two of my favorite All-Star game point guards are Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. They’ve both had that uncanny ability to push the game forward and really set up their mates to get them going. But with neither here, someone else will need to fulfill my jones. Lucky for us all there is no shortage of great lead guards – Paul, Williams, Rose, and Rondo are widely considered the top four players at the position in the league – but I’m anxious to see if any of them show that special type of floor generalship that Nash and Kidd have brought to this game over the years. My guess is that Paul and Rondo will fill that role for their respective teams, but we’ll see.
  • Will it be a close game with a true crunch time and, if so, what will the lineups look like? With the best of the best available for the coaches to choose from, there are plenty of choices to play the most important minutes – or as Magic has always called it: winning time – but who will Greg Popovich and Doc Rivers call on? My best guesses are Paul, Kobe, Durant, Dirk, and Gasol for the West while Rose, Wade, Lebron, KG, and Howard represent the East. Obviously these coaches have a myriad of choices and more of their own players at their disposal (Manu and Timmy for Pop;  Rondo, Pierce and Allen for Doc) but I think these lineups offer these coaches their best chance to get both the stops they seek on one end and buckets on the other.
  • How will the players with some controversy surrounding them play? It’s been reported that Carmelo has met with both the Nets and Knicks in the past couple of days and that both teams remain hot on the trail of Anthony. Meanwhile, that same Ken Berger story also tells us that Deron Williams has told associates that he’d like to be a Knick when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season. With all of this news breaking yesterday, I’m quite interested in seeing if their games are affected at all. Odds are we won’t see any real difference in these guys and we’ll be treated to the same excellence we typically see. However, if it doesn’t play out that way you best believe they’ll be asked about whether or not it affected their play after the game. (Actually, you can probably bet on that whether or not they play well.)

In the end, there are many other angles to look when it comes to one of the most fun games of the year. These are just a few that are on my mind. What’s on yours? Let me know in the comments and enjoy the game.

More news and notes from STAPLES Center as we look ahead to tonight’s big game…

• Other than a potential meet-up in the Finals, the All-Star Game is the only time all season other than two regular season games when the Lakers and Celtics will share the same floor. Just because the game is an exhibition, though, doesn’t mean the rivalry takes a night off, too—at least not for Lakers fans, who vociferously booed Paul Pierce every time he touched the ball during last night’s three point shootout. Fellow shootout competitor and new all-time three-point record-holder Ray Allen got off a little easier, but there was still no mistaking the disdain in the building for the enemies in green. “I think that’s normal,” said Gasol after yesterday’s All-Star practice. “I think that’s the passion of the fans. We all know how they feel about the Celtics.”

• With All-Star regulars like Dirk, Yao, Pau, Manu, etc., the league’s showcase weekend also doubles as a testament to the NBA’s rapid international expansion. “It means a lot,” explained Gasol. “It means that international basketball has grown so much and it’s produced incredible players. To a certain point, the Dream Team of ’92 had a big effect on a lot of players from my generation who started to play there and are now playing in the NBA.”

• We all know Kobe has a flair for the dramatic and has historically performed well in previous All-Star games. Does that automatically make him the go-to option down the stretch of a close game on such a star-studded roster? Gasol chimed in with his two cents: “I’m sure if the game comes to the point where the West needs to hit a game-winner, I’m sure he’ll step up and take it for sure and he’ll be thrilled to do so. I mean, what better scenario than at STAPLES Center.” If his play on Team USA is any indicator, his teammates should and will look to Bryant in the clutch.

• Of the many ails that plagued the Lakers leading up to the All-Star break, Pau believes that a renewed sense of energy is all his team needs to get back on track in the second half of the season—and the (underrated) return of Matt Barnes. “I can’t wait to get back together with the team Monday and work on whatever things the coaching staff wants us to work on and get it going,” said Gasol. “We have a tough back-to-back starting right after the break, so I look forward to that to.” On the impact of Barnes re-joining the team: “We’ve just got to get Matt healthy so he can help us in the small forward position. We have pretty much the same championship team we had last year, so that should be plenty to go for another one.”

The fact that Blake Griffin was crowned dunk king 2011 is no surprise. Throwing down monstrous jams in front of hometown fans with viewers all over the world texting in votes to choose a winner almost ensured that he’d go home with the trophy.

But, while Griffin even had a miss that brought the house down, took the “elbow” dunk to the next level by throwing the ball off the glass before throwing his entire arm through the hoop, and pretty much ended the night jumping over a car and throwing down a two hander, I’m not sure if he had the best dunk of the evening.

Personally, I’m fond of both the dunks that DeMarr DeRozan pulled off, with his first dunk really standing out to me as he caught a lob off the stanchion and then went between his legs for the finish. His second dunk where he lobbed the ball to himself and then caught the ball one handed and cupped home a crazy finish was just as good.

Meanwhile, the other contestants were throwing down monsters too. Serge Ibaka took off from the free throw line with his first dunk of the night and got head high at the rim throwing down a second.

JaVale McGee spent most of the night testing the limits of what we thought was possible by first dunking two balls on two different baskets and then trying to top that by throwing down three balls all on the same hoop. His under the rim cradle dunk was one of the best I’ve seen in a while after actually seeing it in slow motion.

And maybe that’s the real lesson from the night. All four guys had an arsenal of dunks that had the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing all evening. Any of the four guys could have advanced to the finals and I’m sure any of them could have won considering what they showed on the big stage. The fact that Griffin is now the champ shouldn’t take anything away from what the other guys put on display for us to see.

So, what was your favorite? McGee’s double rim hammer? Maybe his up and under cradle? Griffin’s off the side of the backboard finish? On of DeRozan’s? Ibaka’s tribute to Jordan and Dr. J?After thinking more about it, I’m actually having trouble choosing myself.

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If the last All-Star Game held in Los Angeles in 2004 feels like like a lifetime ago, Kobe’s All-Star Game debut in 1998 seems nearly pre-historic by now. Long before Kobe-to-Shaq, a Most Valuable Player Award and five NBA Championships, there was a precocious skinny kid who went toe-to-toe with an aging icon — Michael Jordan. Fourteen seasons and 13 All-Star nods later, it’s Kobe who’s playing the part of NBA legend.

Even as the years go on and the talent pool in the NBA continues to widen, it’s #24 who still drew the largest crowd during today’s post-practice media session. By no coincidence, he’s also the one player that his All-Star peers look to more than anyone else.

“I remember Kobe’s first one; he was squared up against Jordan,” said first-time All-Star Kevin Love. “He had the 360 and then Kobe won the dunk competition in ’97. I remember all that stuff.”

As one of the babies of this year’s group, you can forgive Love if he’s still processing the sheer amount of talent surrounding him this weekend.

“I was talking to those guys in the locker room before we came out here that this is my first time and they’ve been out here like 13, 14 times,” said Love. “It’s unbelievable.”

One of those players is fellow big man Pau Gasol, who’s still in the middle of his All-Star journey, somewhere between Love and his Lakers teammate, Bryant.

“Those are guys I try to emulate and loved watching growing up, so being here with them, I just try to pick apart their game and hopefully get a closer look at them tomorrow,” Love said.

Doling out advice to rising stars like Love at All-Star Weekend is two-fold for players like Kobe and Pau, giving them a chance to reflect on their own All-Star history, too.

“Obviously, it’s a great compliment that the young guys try to emulate you and do the things you do out there—especially young talented players who have the potential to be terrific players,” said Gasol, whose first All-Star appearance in 2006 was soured due to an illness that forced him to miss most of the weekend’s activities.

“I was in bed the whole weekend,” Gasol said. “I missed practice, I missed everything, but I had to play no matter what. But I played—I played 13 to 14 minutes and I got like 12 boards or something. I didn’t score one point, but I had a good time. I told myself I had to give myself another chance to actually get to enjoy another All-Star game.”

Five years the wiser, Pau’s given himself plenty of additional chances, making it to three consecutive All-Star games, while joining Bryant on the list of regular All-Star veterans — an achievement not lost on the seven-footer.

“It’s a big opportunity to have this great party—this great basketball party—here at home with the locals. It’s really an honor,” said Gasol.

For the Lakers duo, there’s nothing jaded about this weekend. Even after back-to-back NBA titles and whispers from Father Time, Kobe and Pau will approach tomorrow’s All-Star game with every bit as much fire and anticipation as Kevin Love.

“This one’s a little bit more special,” said Bryant. “For a player to have an All-Star game in his home town twice is pretty cool.”

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About the Saturday night festivities: Obviously I join all Lakers fans in their disappointment that Shannon didn’t put on a better performance in the dunk contest. I was hopeful that he’d provide fans with some memorable moments, but it just wasn’t in the cards for WOW. Analyzing what actually happened with our guy, I’d say that Shannon went for the safe dunk after he missed his ‘Statue of Liberty’ 360 attempt and then he had too much ground to make up when that safer, first dunk received a low score. Switching hands on dunks is not that easy, and Shannon definitely flashed his athleticism (especially on that alley-oop) but jumping really high isn’t really enough to impress the judges. There needs to be either some showmanship or some element of newness to the dunks that you do in that contest or everyone just kind of yawns and waits for the next guy’s turn.  As for the event overall, I thought it was pretty bad.  There weren’t enough good dunks and there wasn’t enough star power to carry the event.  Oh, how I miss the days of ‘Nique and Jordan or even more recently guys like Vince, Iguodala, and Jason Richardson.  Those guys were young, but still name players in the league when they competed and they brought a level of intrigue that made kept fans watching and wondering what would happen next.  This year, the only player that competed that is even a starter on his own team is Gerald Wallace and even he’s a pretty well kept secret to most casual fans.  I’m not saying you need Lebron in the contest to make it thrive (though that would be nice), but I think you need some names to keep fans intrigued.  I also think you either need more competitors or more dunks.  Two dunks from each competitor just isn’t enough and only having four guys means that you may lose a fan favorite (like WOW) early in the competition with little to show for it by the time the night is over.

As for the other events, I was really hopeful that Steph Curry would pull out the 3-point shootout but he just didn’t have enough in him to take out Paul “I make all the money balls” Pierce.  Pierce showed everyone, again, that he is dangerous with the ball in his hands and can bury shots with the best of them (I also thought the point that the announcers made about his competitiveness was a good one).  Do I think that he’s “one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA”?  Umm, no.  But for all the talk from the announcers that Chauncey Billups is a “streak shooter”, I think that label really belongs to Pierce as he can get hot with the best of them and can find his groove rather quickly.  Pierce is one of the few players in the league that can start a game off very slowly with poor shooting and then turn it on in the 4th quarter and start making shot after shot.  I think he showed that level of shot making last night with his 20 spot in the finals.  As for the Skills Challenge and HORSE, I think both events could use a revamping – HORSE especially.  I think the players need to be encouraged to take more outlandish shots or they need to bring in players that will try those shots all on their own (Monta, Lebron, or even Farmar as shown with his pregame “warmups”).  As for the Skills challenge, I enjoyed watching Nash (and his antics), but the event is a tad boring and I wish they’d add something to it.  Maybe they could add an alley-oop passing ring to the other passes or maybe they could enforce different dribbling techniques into the weave portion (behind the back or spin move dribbles)….I don’t know.  But, I’d like to see a bit more spice in these events.

The other big news this weekend: It looks like the Dallas/Washington swap is going to happen.  The basics of the deal are Dallas sending Josh Howard and Drew Gooden to Washington for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Obviously, this is a win for Dallas in that they get some really good players in this deal and the best player overall in Butler (Kobe thinks this makes Dallas a real contender for the West crown and “on par” with the Lakers).  Washington also gets the cap space that it wants as it goes into full rebuilding mode after a couple terrible seasons in a row.  My thoughts on this deal from the Dallas side are that it definitely makes them a better team. Many will look to Butler as the key cog and that’s natural since he’s the best player in the deal. But to me, it’s the inclusion of Haywood that makes this deal a strong one for the Mavs. They’ve really lacked an interior defensive presence and now they’ve got one of the better defensive bigs in the league to play against Pau/Bynum, Duncan, Boozer, and Nene in the Western Conference playoffs.  And if they were to reach the Finals with this team, Haywood would be more than just a speedbump against Shaq and Dwight. The only drawback I can see for the Mavs is that they’re still thin at SG and this puts Marion’s role in question. In crunch time will the Mavs go small with Kidd, Terry, Butler, Marion, and Dirk? Or will they play a traditional line-up with Marion at SF and Butler at SG (where both players are a bit out of position) with a Dirk/Haywood combo at PF/C? Or, will Marion sit completely so everyone can play their natural positions (with Butler at SF and Terry at SG)? These aren’t problems, per se, but they will be issues that need to be worked out with the Mavs coaching staff and getting that straight with only 30 games left in the regular season is something that will take some work and compromise from the players in order for them to truly gel.

Tonight’s Action:  I love the all-star game as it really is a supreme collection of talent all on one court.  It is a bit of a letdown that Kobe isn’t going to play, but we still get Pau in the game and as a hoops fan the Nash/Dirk reunion in the starting line up and seeing Deron in this game for the first time should be a joy to watch.  I’m also very excited to see Kevin Durant get some court time with the other elite players in this game.  He’s obviously one of (if not) the best young player(s) (outside of Lebron) in the NBA and I think he’ll prove that when he’s on the big stage.

My prediction?  Without Kobe in this game, the East clearly has the best player in Lebron.  You throw in the potential crunch time lineup of Lebron, Wade, Joe Johnson, Bosh, and Horford Howard (need that role player to do the dirty work) and I think they’ll give the West fits with all the versatility that that lineup could offer.  Could a crunch time West lineup of Deron, ‘Melo, Durant, Duncan, and Dirk overcome that group?  I’m not sure, but I’ll be watching and hoping for those closing lineups as, to me, those guys represent the best that each team could close a game with.  Final score? 128 – 121 East, with Lebron bringing home the MVP.  Comment away on what you think will be the outcome of this one.