Saturday night brought its own intrigue and drama, but NBA All-Star Weekend's main event doesn't tip off until tonight.
Sunday's All-Star Game will pit 24 of the league's brightest and most entertaining players against each other. But while all deserve to be there, only one will stick out and take the night's biggest honors.
Names like Kobe, Durant and LeBron are the obvious (and well-earned) favorites, but every once in a while, a dark horse emerges to shine.
Here are three candidates to do so in 2013.
PG Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
When biographers tell the tale of Kyrie Irving's greatness, they might well start the story with a balmy Houston weekend.
It feels like cheating to list Irving as a dark horse for this award. Everything he's done this season—and, to be honest, last season too—has made him worthy of his tepid spotlight. But by most he's still regarded as a fringe elite player, not a bona fide star.
This evening, however, he might be ready to assume a spot next to LeBron, Durant and the other legit blue-chippers.
With a three-point trophy already in his pocket (how smooth did his stroke look, by the way?), Irving will have his guns loaded during the 2013 All-Star Game. He won't be afraid to shoot, and if last night was any indication, he won't very often miss.
If he's similarly hot on Sunday, there's a good chance he leaves with another piece of hardware.
PG Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs' swarthy point guard doesn't seem like an All-Star Game type player at first glance. Not that he doesn't deserve to be there—he very much does. But these events are tailored to the flashy, not the subtly efficient.
But on second look, despite not being able to jump or dunk like the rest of his distinguished peers, Parker's a sneaky bet to take home the award.
He's won and earned many accolades over his 11-year career, but Parker might well be playing the best basketball of his career this season. Even at 30 years of age, he's deked and duked his way to a PER of 24.53—the highest of his career and sixth in the NBA.
In Sunday's All-Star Game—where lazy defense isn't just present, it's encouraged—his hot shooting will be quite auspicious. In what's sure to look like a backyard shooting drill, one of basketball's hottest guards could steal the show.
PF David Lee, Golden State Warriors
How many minutes will he play? That's probably a fair question. But if D-Lee finds enough court time, he could seriously threaten for the MVP award.
His defensive and intangible impact have always been contentious. But no one has ever been able to argue Lee's statistical impact. Since breaking through with the Knicks in 2006, he's always put up big point and rebound figures.
In a game where others are jovial and lethargic, Lee will scrap and hustle his way to many a loose ball. He'll find a way to get his hands on lots of rebounds, so if he also finds a way to score, his final stat line should look beautiful.
It's the definition of a dark-horse bet, but stranger things have happened. Right?
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