For the second straight season, change has come to the NBA All-Star Game.
Last year, the Association moved away from separating the rosters by conference and let two captains sort out the squads. This year, the format stayed the same, but the league opted to televise the selection process.
Let's hope the newfound competitiveness carries over. Last season's exhibition was a legitimate thriller with Team LeBron edging Team Stephen by a tiny 148-145 margin.
Could Team LeBron and Team Giannis be headed for another photo finish? After looking at each team's roster, we'll examine three of the biggest storylines heading into Sunday's showdown.
LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers
Kevin Durant, F, Golden State Warriors
Kyrie Irving, G, Boston Celtics
Kawhi Leonard, F, Toronto Raptors
James Harden, G, Houston Rockets
Anthony Davis, F, New Orleans Hornets
Klay Thompson, G, Golden State Warriors
Damian Lillard, G, Portland Trail Blazers
Ben Simmons, G, Philadelphia 76ers
LaMarcus Aldridge, F, San Antonio Spurs
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Bradley Beal, G, Washington Wizards
Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Steph Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Paul George, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte Hornets
Khris Middleton, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
Blake Griffin, F, Detroit Pistons
Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
D'Angelo Russell, G, Brooklyn Nets
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
Kyle Lowry, G, Toronto Raptors
Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas Mavericks
Does Size Still Matter?
The All-Star draft pool featured four players designated as centers. Three were taken by Antetokounmpo, himself a near 7-footer who spends about a quarter of his floor time at the 5.
Even though the Greek Freak is as malleable as almost anyone in this position-less league, his roster feels more rigid with its position designations. Sure, this is an exhibition setting, but how many non-center minutes can you squeeze out of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Nikola Vucevic or Dirk Nowitzki? And how much shooting will you need to support Antetokounmpo with a second big on the floor?
James' roster, on the other hand, oozes versatility. He didn't take a big man until his fifth selection (first of the reserve round), and even then it was Davis, a one-time point guard who literally grew into becoming an unstoppable 6'10" force who scores from the paint to the perimeter.
Unless Team Giannis is looking to control tempo—which sounds like the worst kind of approach for this environment—it'll be tricky for the super-sized squad to not get run out of the Spectrum Center. The higher the point totals climb, the likelier it is that James' side will prevail.
Charlotte, North Carolina, is hosting this year's event, which is a bigger deal than the Hornets' relatively anonymous existence would have you think.
For starters, Buzz City has its adopted son, Kemba Walker, in the opening group for Team Giannis. The 28-year-old has gone from being the ninth overall pick in 2011 to one of the more recognizable faces of a franchise. In seven-plus seasons with the Hornets, he's become their all-time leader in points, threes, free throws and win shares.
When he's introduced as an All-Star starter to the Charlotte faithful, the atmosphere should be electric.
"I'm sure it will be an unbelievable moment being that the game is in Charlotte," Walker told reporters. "I've been here for eight years now, so it's going to be crazy."
Don't be surprised if you hear a similar eruption for Stephen Curry, who grew up in Charlotte while his father, Dell, logged the most appearances in Hornets history. Curry would later force his way onto the national radar by starring at nearby Davidson College.
And finally, the local owner at this year's festivities is none other than Michael Jordan, who last suited up in 2003 and might still be the most prominent figure in basketball.
2011 Finals Reunion
The 2011 NBA Finals were incredible.
It was the first test for the newly formed super friends on the Miami Heat, not to mention Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks' shot at revenge for their collapse in the 2006 championship round. The 2011 version had three games decided by three points or fewer, two blown series leads by the Heat, some contentious moments between the teams and no shortage of heroics.
Nowitzki and the Mavs laughed last with a 4-2 series win, although the Heat immediately followed the loss with back-to-back titles.
The principle players from that series will all share the floor one final time in Charlotte, again with Nowitzki on one side and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the other. While it's hard to imagine many minutes coming for Nowitzki and Wade, who were made special additions to the game by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, nostalgic NBA fans will soak up all the seconds they can.