Despite already blowing by the midseason mark, the NBA will press pause and showcase its brightest performers in the All-Star Game.
Viewers clamoring for fundamental basketball will bicker about the players' laissez-faire approach. Yet those who can appreciate the league's top stars having fun will enjoy themselves.
And hey, maybe they'll play a little defense at the end if the game is close.
LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will captain their hand-picked squads for Sunday's grand exhibition in Charlotte, North Carolina. Some teammates could clash in a contest packed with fresh faces. Yet most mainstays naturally top the MVP odds.
When: Sunday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. ET
LeBron James, LAL
Kevin Durant, GS
Kyrie Irving, BOS
Kawhi Leonard, TOR
James Harden, HOU
Anthony Davis, NO
Klay Thompson, GS
Damian Lillard, POR
Ben Simmons, PHI
Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN
Bradley Beal, WAS
Dwyane Wade, MIA
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL
Stephen Curry, GS
Joel Embiid, PHI
Paul George, OKC
Kemba Walker, CHA
Khris Middleton, MIL
Nikola Jokic, DEN
Russell Westbrook, OKC
Blake Griffin, DET
D'Angelo Russell, BKN
Nikola Vucevic, ORL
Kyle Lowry, TOR
Dirk Nowitzki, DAL
It's no surprise to see the captains as MVP favorites. Per Land of Basketball, James leads the way with 343 cumulative All-Star Game points in 14 appearances. His 24.5 points per game ties for the top spot with Anthony Davis, whose line is only low because of availability concerns, so it wouldn't shock anyone if James matches Kobe Bryant and Bob Pettit with a record-tying fourth MVP designation.
Kevin Durant, the first pick, enters the weekend as Team James' betting favorite. The Golden State Warriors stud could play more minutes than his older squad leader, and perhaps he's motivated to show up his past (Russell Westbrook) and present (Stephen Curry) running mates on the other side. While Durant hasn't taken the contest's MVP hardware since 2012, he has posted at least 30 points three other times.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, is a veritable candidate for the 2018-19 season's MVP with an NBA-high 10.6 win shares, per Basketball-Reference. He's a stat-stuffer who can avoid his Achilles' heel (three-point shooting) by dunking on James' undersized defense all night long.
The game often unravels into another dunk contest, so maybe the Greek Freak can replicate Michael Jordan's Space Jam slam from half court. Unless he'd rather leap from the three-point line.
Kemba Walker is an odd inclusion among the favorites, but he's not a far-fetched choice. The 28-year-old guard is averaging a career-high 24.9 points per game for the Charlotte Hornets, who are hosting the weekend festivities. Team Giannis could make sure the guard sends the crowd home happy.
There's just one problem: He has to share the backcourt with another hometown hero. Charlotte native Curry returns home for his sixth straight All-Star appearance. Per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle, he's excited to celebrate his roots.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to showcase the city and highlight what it meant to me and my family," Curry said. "I'm just going to embrace the weekend, embrace the fun."
After partaking in Saturday's Three-Point Shootout, Curry might carry over the same approach into Sunday's showcase. Expect him to put on a show from deep on both evenings.
Big men rarely steal the show in a modern All-Star Game, but Davis (2017's MVP), Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Blake Griffin are all equipped to run the floor, shoot and submit viral-worthy highlights. A flair for theatrics and possibility of a popularity contest deciding the winner makes Embiid the most notable contender.
Just don't overlook a crowded Team Giannis frontcourt limiting minutes for Embiid, Jokic and Nikola Vucevic.
Per NBA.com, James Harden's 39.1 percent usage rate bests the runner-up Embiid by seven full points. No All-Star offense, of course, will run through one player the way the Houston Rockets play through last season's MVP. That's the most logical explanation for the NBA's leader in scoring—and the top contender to maintain his MVP crown—getting the same long-shot odds as a hobbled Davis.
Perhaps the oddsmakers are also counting on fewer whistles in a lax exhibition.
Westbrook is having a dreadful shooting season, but All-Star Game MVP voters won't look at efficiency rates. They want the gaudiest stat tallies, and the Oklahoma City Thunder player is still averaging a triple-double (21.7 points, 11.2 assists, 11.2 rebounds).
Never one to shy away from the spotlight or rest in the corner, the 2015 and 2016 All-Star Game MVP posted 41 points in 2017. He's more likely to take back the award than Thunder and Team Giannis teammate Paul George.