The 2018 NBA All-Star break is finally upon us, with the Association steamrolling into Los Angeles for what should be a wild weekend.
This year's All-Star Game features a few changes the league hopes will lead to a more competitive contest, with less of the laughable defense seen recently.
For starters, the two teams were handpicked by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry—the highest vote-getters in their respective conferences—once fans, players, media and coaches had selected the player pools. In addition, there's an increased financial incentive to win.
We'll find out Sunday (8 p.m. ET on TNT) what impact the modifications will make. For now, let's run through the lineups for both sides, update the injury report and analyze the matchup.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans**
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat*
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons*
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder*
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets*
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers**
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks**
John Wall, Washington Wizards**
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
James Harden, Houston Rockets
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Note: * denotes injury replacements and ** denotes originally selected players who are being replaced. Team LeBron and Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey will choose Cousins' replacement in the starting lineup.
After being ravaged by the injury bug, Team LeBron finally received some welcome news on the medical front. Russell Westbrook, who missed two straight games in the past week with an ankle injury, seemingly put that behind him by totaling 44 points, 27 assists and 20 rebounds over his final two outings before the break—a stretch that included his league-leading 17th triple-double.
The reigning MVP offered few words about his condition, other than telling reporters it "felt great" to return to action, per Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript:
When pressed on whether it "felt weird" being sidelined, Westbrook wasn't the least bit interested in continuing the conversation.
"I mean, let's move forward. Let's move forward, I'm back," he said.
James had to like hearing that, since his roster had already been radically reshaped by injuries. Four of his initial picks went down with serious or season-ending ailments—DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon), John Wall (knee surgery), Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) and Kevin Love (broken hand).
LaMarcus Aldridge also missed the San Antonio Spurs' last two games with knee soreness, but he is expected to play Sunday, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News.
Team Stephen has all of its original picks available.
One of the added bonuses in this year's format was the absence of positional requirements for the rosters. Rather than the two-guard, three-big setups from the past, the captains could assemble their lineups pick-up style.
Curry stayed true to his backcourt roots and nabbed two more guards for his starting five (James Harden and DeMar DeRozan). The 6'8", 250-pound locomotive known as LeBron only selected one starter shorter than him—6'3" Kyrie Irving—although Casey's choices to replace Cousins include just two bigs and five guards (including Westbrook, a two-time MVP in this event).
While neither side has a true weakness, their strengths reflect those of their respective captains.
Team Stephen is overloaded with perimeter snipers. The roster boasts five of the league's top eight players in three-point makes—James Harden (first), Klay Thompson (third), Curry (fourth), Kyle Lowry (sixth) and Damian Lillard (eighth). The combined three-point conversion of that quintet is a blistering 40.1 percent.
Team LeBron, meanwhile, has several of the game's most incredible size-plus-skill talents. James is built like a linebacker and plays like a point guard. Kevin Durant is a 7'0" wing. Anthony Davis is a 6'10" power forward/center who spent part of his prep career as a lead guard. Andre Drummond is somehow both 6'11", 280 pounds and a hyper-explosive athlete.
Shooting typically dominates today's game—maybe even more so in an up-and-down setting like this—but maybe the atypical athleticism on James' side can buck that trend.
Varying Levels of All-Star Experience
Five different players will make their All-Star debuts this weekend—not counting the hobbled Porzingis, a fellow first-timer—but Joel Embiid will be the only one to do so in the starting lineup.
The 7'0" center said this was coming—before he even played a college game, let alone morphed into "The Process."
The way Embiid sees it, his prophecy shouldn't have taken this long to come to fruition.
"I feel like it should have happened last year," Embiid said, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'm excited, but I believe in God. I feel like everything happens for a reason. So I'm blessed."
Embiid is one of two All-Star newbies on Team Stephen, along with Karl-Anthony Towns. Team LeBron will have three in action (Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic) and a fourth on its inactive list (Porzingis).
James is on the other end of the spectrum and will make his 14th appearance, top among active players. Durant (nine), Westbrook (seven), Harden (six) and Aldridge (six) are the only other 2018 All-Stars with six or more selections.
There are five former All-Star MVPs in this contest, and Team LeBron has all of them—James (twice), Westbrook (twice), Davis, Durant and Irving.