The 2014 NBA All-Star Game was bright with superstar highlights, but starting tomorrow, teams will begin their push into the playoffs and up the conference rankings.
Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks are scraping for an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers is pushing his team higher up in the Western Conference while Kevin Durant seeks to solidify the Oklahoma City Thunder as the No.1 seed. Each player is crucial to their teams, whether it is increasing relevance or putting on championship rings.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
The MVP of the All-Star Game led the East with 31 points and 14 assists. He was both a team player and a prolific scorer.
"But there's certain players that stand out beyond that, and Kyrie is definitely one of them... He's one of the best in the world, and he showed it tonight," said Eastern Conference and Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel after the game.
Without Irving, their season would be hopeless down the stretch. The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak and are currently three games out of the eighth seed.
They are about to either turn a corner or fall behind. If Irving can stay this hot, the Cavaliers have a legitimate playoff chance.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Anthony broke an All-Star game record with eight three-pointers on just 13 attempts. He has been scorching all season, shooting 41.6 percent behind the arc.
The rest of the Knicks are a headache. He is the lone bright spot on a team that is 21st in the NBA in scoring with 97.3 points per game and 26th in team rebounds per game with 40.7 defensive rebounds per game.
Despite a 20-32 record, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of an eighth seed in the weak Eastern Conference. Anthony has been carrying the Knicks on his back all season. He must continue to shoulder the burden for any hope of New York making the playoffs.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Griffin had a monster night with 38 points and six rebounds and was highly efficient making 19 out of 23 field goals.
He has dominated in the paint all season with dunks and rebounds. Griffin needs to power the Clippers past the Houston Rockets for the third seed and catch the San Antonio Spurs.
Griffin and the Clippers must stay competitive with the top teams in the Western Conference to get a more favorable playoff matchup.
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant scored 38 points with 10 rebounds and six assists. His 17 three-point attempts, however, led the All-Star Game. He needs to be more efficient in the regular season.
Ever since Russell Westbrook underwent knee surgery on December 27, Durant has been unstoppable. According to ESPN Insider, he leads the NBA in PER at 30.99 and averaged over 33 points per game over the past two months. Durant has excelled without Westbrook, but now if he is having an off night, then he won’t have to shoulder the full burden of scoring.
The Thunder stand four games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and have the best record in the NBA. They are in the championship discussion, and rightfully so.