The NBA All-Star Game has no bearing on the rest of the regular season, but that does not stop certain players on either side from stepping up their efforts when called upon. A great deal of pride is still on the line, and X-factors still come into play.
Both the Eastern and Western Conferences have a great deal of depth, and watching the squads face off should provide one of the best All-Star Games in recent history. However, just who will step up and be the difference-maker?
On the West's end, it could be any of the fine scorers on the bench. Russell Westbrook is as dynamic as they come, while Tony Parker and James Harden can go into play-maker mode in the blink of an eye.
The East's depth is a bit different. Rather than stockpiling scorers, the coaches opted to go with a deeper set of reserves who focus on defense.
Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler or Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah could come in and provide some solid play in a game usually defined by offense, while the ever-electrifying Paul George could come off the bench and simply do it all.
This game is definitely going to be close; the enormous talent of both sides starters all but ensure that. Thus, the margin actually depends on the performances of the following bench players.
The second-year point guard out of Duke has been great for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, posting 23.5 points and 5.5 assists per game while shooting an astounding 42.5 percent from long range. Just what his role will be tonight remains to be seen, but fans should definitely expect great things from the former Blue Devil.
He's going to be guarded by some experienced Western Conference veterans, but mark my words: Tonight is only the beginning of Irving's All-Star career, and he'll give fans a small taste of why he's going to be around for a long time to come.
George is also one of the league's premier dunkers, and fans should expect plenty of action above the rim from him tonight. Moreover, he might bring just enough defense to keep the score close from start to finish. He is an excellent pest, and fans can expect him to have at least one steal that leads to one of his legendary slams.
The former UCLA Bruin has posted 22.6 points, 8.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game, plus 1.9 steals, and he won't have to worry about being too trigger-happy on offense in the All-Star Game.
The man's job is to score points, lots of them if he can. He needs to create off the dribble, drive the lane and maybe break out some three-point shooting.
In his first All-Star appearance, the man is likely going to be a scorer and dunker off the bench. However, just think of the three years Harden spent in Oklahoma City.
To ensure a West victory, Harden needs to be in that form tonight. Instead of trying to score points nonstop, he must also be willing to get his teammates involved. It's a game all about pretty plays thanks to single-coverage defense, so this should not be a problem for Harden.
With the rest of the action slated to go down tonight, expect him and the rest of these X-factors to have great games.