The deep and talented Western Conference has won the last two NBA All-Star Games, but the scrappy Eastern Conference can make a statement this year. Looking at the two rosters, the East has the athleticism advantage and, with the right approach, could control the game from start to finish.
That all depends on a few factors, of course. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra will be manning the sidelines for the East, and chances are he'll want to incorporate his team's Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade into the offense as much as possible.
Granted, the NBA All-Star Game has no bearing on the rest of the season, and is essentially just a playground game that gives the fans the opportunity to watch the stars of the league battle each other in an offensive shootout. However, the Eastern Conference has what it takes to make this game a close contest from start to finish, and one that could easily end in defeat for the West.
So long as a few plans are executed properly, then Spoelstra will be able to leave the Toyota Center as the victor.
Key #1: Keep Chris Bosh at Power Forward
Bosh has played center for the Miami Heat all season long, and he has the size for the position at 6'11", 235 pounds. However, he does not necessarily play like a pure defensive 5.
The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket has posted 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season, but plays more like a scoring power forward than a center. Rather than stay in the paint and work almost solely under the basket, Bosh likes to utilize his jump shot and sometimes even a three-pointer.
If this were a regular season game or one with any bearing on the rest of the season whatsoever, I'd say how Bosh needs to heavily improve his interior defense. For the All-Star Game, however, he must continue to play the game the way he has all season long.
This is because with tough interior defenders like Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler on the Eastern Conference's roster, there is really no reason that Bosh should see extended minutes at the 5. Both of those men can hold their own there, and their defense is going to be critical if the East is destined to pull off the upset.
Switching Bosh to power forward will allow the eight-time All-Star to stretch the floor, providing the Eastern Conference All-Stars with someone who can nail clutch mid-range jump shots. The Western Conference does not have much in terms of solid high-post defenders who can match Bosh's size, so the East could be in a fine position to win if Spoelstra implements this strategy and breaks away from his usual use of Bosh.
Key #2: Turn Paul George into Bruce Bowen
Due to concern over injuries, tough defense is never the story of the game at NBA All-Star Weekend. This year, in order to ensure a victory for the East, Spoelstra needs to implement one strong defensive strategy built around one strong defensive player in Paul George.
Representing the Indiana Pacers in his first All-Star appearance, George has solid size at 6'8", 221 pounds, and has posted 17.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in teammate Danny Granger's absence. However, all scoring abilities aside, he is also an excellent defender.
George has also posted 1.8 steals per contest this season, his on-the-ball defense helping tremendously in the Pacers' effort to stay afloat as Granger recovers from knee surgery. His three-point shooting is another notable part of his game, with George having made 38 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Thinking about it now, his size and abilities are very reminiscent of former pest extraordinaire, Bruce Bowen. In his heyday, Bowen was known for playing absolute lockdown defense while also having a knack for sinking threes.
As good a scorer as George is, Spoelstra needs to use him in a Bowen-like role if the Eastern Conference is to come away with a victory. The team already has solid scorers galore, and adding one more to the mix is unnecessary.
This means that George needs to stick to his man like glue and not hesitate to take an open three when the opportunity presents itself. Rather than try and be the go-to guy, he must use his defense to try and create opportunities for his fellow go-to men.
Should this strategy work, the Eastern Conference will have a great chance at winning the 2013 NBA All-Star Game.
Key #3: Make Jrue Holiday the Top Point Guard
The Eastern Conference was dealt a potentially devastating blow when Rajon Rondo tore his ACL, but the team is not as sunk as one may think. Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers was also named to the roster, and he can provide the East with the type of scoring spark that Rondo lacks.
This season, Holiday is averaging 19.3 points, nine assists and 1.5 steals per game. He has also made a respectable 35 percent of his threes, adding to his value as a scoring point guard.
Therein lies how the Western Conference got the formula wrong at the point. Chris Paul is an excellent point man with a skillset very similar to Holiday's, but his slow return from a bruised knee leaves his status for the All-Star Game up in the air. He has not played since January 21 and barring a major turnaround in his recovery, there is no guarantee that he'll play even if his knee does feel better.
This leaves the Western Conference's options at the point as follows: Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. Both players are excellent scoring point guards, but do not have the athleticism or eye-popping playmaking abilities of Holiday.
Don't get me wrong. Westbrook and Parker are still great players, but have their flaws despite solid passing games. Westbrook tends to get a bit trigger-happy on offense, and Parker has only just started to have a more balanced attack in terms of his scoring and passing.
Arguably, Holiday works that balance better than both players. His Philadelphia 76ers may not be in the playoff race, but that can be attributed to center Andrew Bynum being unavailable all season long. Were he in the lineup from the get-go, Holiday's numbers could be much higher than they are now.
Can the Eastern Conference pull off an upset?
That all being said, Spoelstra needs to have Holiday in full playmaking mode from start to finish. He must be willing to score points, but also know when to dish the ball off to a teammate. Defensively, he must be in beast mode.
If the Eastern Conference can utilize him in such a way and also get all cylinders running on the other keys to victory, then two things are certain. First, the outcome of the 2013 NBA All-Star Game will be extremely close.
Second, the East will be in full control from start to finish, and the final result will leave the Western Conference All-Stars standing stunned by the final buzzer.