Let’s cut to the chase about the NBA All-Star Game’s storylines. We’re all waiting to see how forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook interact as teammates for the first time since blowing a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
It sounds reality television-inspired, but the stars on the court will take a backseat to the awkwardness between former teammates. As for the actual exhibition game, we’ll see two new All-Stars on each squad.
Milwaukee Bucks forward and frequent ball-handler, Giannis Antetokounmpo will start in his first appearance. Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker debuts in the star-driven game as a reserve.
On the Western Conference roster, Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward will come off the bench as first-time All-Stars. What can we expect on the court? How should Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr handle bitter rivals forced to play nice for the spectators?
|Eastern Conference All-Stars|
|FC||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Milwaukee Bucks||1|
|FC||Jimmy Butler||Chicago Bulls||3|
|FC||LeBron James||Cleveland Cavaliers||13|
|BC||DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors||3|
|BC||Kyrie Irving||Cleveland Cavaliers||4|
|FC||Paul George||Indiana Pacers||4|
|FC||Kevin Love||Cleveland Cavaliers||4|
|BC||Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors||3|
|FC||Paul Millsap||Atlanta Hawks||4|
|BC||Isaiah Thomas||Boston Celtics||2|
|BC||Kemba Walker||Charlotte Hornets||1|
|BC||John Wall||Washington Wizards||4|
The Eastern Conference All-Stars, coached by Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics, don’t carry as much drama as their opponents. Interestingly, we may see who’s the better ball distributor between Kyrie Irving and Antetokounmpo. Both players average a little more than five assists per game.
LeBron James will start the event, but it’s highly unlikely he plays half the minutes. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a slight 2.5-game lead over the Celtics in the regular-season standings. James has a bigger goal in mind than showing off in his 13th All-Star Game. We’ll see a couple of dunks and one chase-down block before King James watches the rest of the action perched on the bench.
Guard DeMar DeRozan should ignite the crowd with at least two thunderous dunks. Whether he plays in the Olympics, the regular season or a relaxed environment such as the All-Star Game, he’s going to attempt to put someone on a poster.
The smaller guards, Walker and Isaiah Thomas will steal the show. The former comes into the game as a newcomer to the All-Star spotlight; the latter steps onto the court with a chip on his shoulder at all times.
Stevens will likely allow Thomas to shine if the game is close in the fourth quarter. The 5’9” point guard has lit up the scoreboard in the final quarter for the entire season. He’s going to be the reason the East either win the game or remain competitive once the play reaches a serious level.
|Western Conference All-Stars|
|FC||Anthony Davis||New Orleans Pelicans||4|
|FC||Kevin Durant||Golden State Warriors||8|
|FC||Kawhi Leonard||San Antonio Spurs||2|
|BC||Stephen Curry||Golden State Warriors||4|
|BC||James Harden||Houston Rockets||5|
|FC||DeMarcus Cousins||Sacramento Kings||3|
|FC||Marc Gasol||Memphis Grizzlies||3|
|FC||Draymond Green||Golden State Warriors||2|
|BC||Gordon Hayward||Utah Jazz||1|
|FC||DeAndre Jordan||Los Angeles Clippers||1|
|BC||Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors||3|
|BC||Russell Westbrook||Oklahoma City Thunder||6|
Kerr will have four of his own players to manage in the game, two of which are in the starting lineup. The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle, right? We have the pleasure of watching superstars who normally wouldn't team up, play together in a glorified pickup game.
The fans would see a throwback Oklahoma City Thunder team along with a distance shooter in Curry and an interesting character in Green. Kerr should utilize this group to break the ice and capitalize on the entertainment value. No one plays a serious game until the fourth quarter anyway.
Don’t expect the Warriors head coach to play any of his four guys in heavy minutes as the season winds down over the next two months. Jordan may not win the Slam Dunk Contest, but he should take in the moment as an All-Star for the first time with some poster-worthy dunks on his Eastern adversaries. Gordon will also likely log big minutes as he enjoys the experience.
With all the firepower on the roster and forward Kawhi Leonard tightening up on defense in the fourth quarter, the Western Conference should win the star-studded event. The game’s MVP honors will go to Westbrook. Why? He only plays in one gear—fast and furious. He’s also liable to stick it to Durant with any possible chance.
Final Prediction: East 141, West 146