Katelyn E. Clooney
Well, it’s that time of year again.
It seems like just yesterday the San Antonio Spurs received their Championship rings, before beating inner-state rival Dallas in a 101-100 nail-biter, to tip-off the NBA season.
However, 28 NBA teams have already begun their All-Star break. The Cavaliers’ and Bulls’ mini-vacations will commence following their Central Division showdown on TNT thursday night.
While the recently extended break provides a much-needed period of rest for many players, the next few days are still filled with plenty of action, as the league enjoys its annual showcase.
As mentioned, the All-Star break will last a little bit longer this year, with most teams having eight or nine days off. However, that is not the only change to the league’s mid-season festivities.
The Rising Stars Challenge, formerly known as the Rookie/Sophomore Game, is once again switching things up. This year, it’s us against the World – literally, as 10 players from the United States will face off against 10 international players. The teams still consist of players in their first two years of NBA action.
Additionally, after what your humble columnist believes was an absolute failure last year, the Slam Dunk Contest will revert back to its original format.
Finally, the Skills Challenge is also seeing a face lift this year, as it features a bracket-style format.
As a whole, the league has ditched the West vs. East format, which it experimented with last year, and, aside from the Shooting Stars challenge, all Saturday, Feb. 14, night events will once again be competed in individually.
Yes, it’s alot to to take in, but do not fear, casual NBA fans. Here is your guide for All-Star Weekend, including what (or who) to look out for, as well as my picks:
Could defending champion Trey Burke be bounced in the first round? Possibly. After one year as a relay, the Skills Challenge is once again an individual event.
This year’s contest features a plethora of elite guards, including Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Jeff Teague, Michael Carter Williams, Jimmy Butler, Patrick Beverley and Burke’s first round opponent, Brandon Knight. While Knight will pose a challenge, look for Burke to repeat. Isaiah Thomas is my dark horse.
Three Point Contest
This will be can’t-miss TV. This year’s contest has what I believe to be the greatest field ever – and Reggie Miller agrees. Wesley Matthews, J.J. Redick, James Harden, Marco Bellineli, Kyle Korver and Kyrie Irving will all be lighting up the Barclays Center on Saturday night. Belinelli won the title last year, while Irving took home the trophy in 2013.
Also joining them are “The Splash Brothers,” Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. After a disappointing performance last year, look for Curry to come out strong this weekend. While it is hard to bet against Korver, who is shooting over 50% from beyond the arc this year, it is also very hard to bet against Thompson.
He is averaging almost 45% from long range this season and recently went 11-15 from three, in a win over the Kings, on route to 52 points. Remember: this time, he’s unguarded. I’m not quite ready to crown Thompson yet, but a Warrior will win.
Slam Dunk Contest
Let’s face it. No matter how many fans rant and rave on social media and no matter how much Charles Barkley does so, on national television, LeBron James will never be in the Dunk Contest.
And don’t expect to see Dwight Howard putting on a cape or Blake Griffin jumping over a car, again, either. What we have is a young field of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo and Mason Plumlee. In fact, all four participants in the Dunk Contest will have also participated in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge.
While these may not be household names, don’t sleep on the talent in this year’s event. Just Youtube “Zach LaVine dunks;” you’ll be happy you did. He’s my pick.
Ah, the moment we’ve all be waiting for, the main event. After a few corrected snubs, thanks to Commissioner Stern (and injuries), the show will go on. As much as defense is annually nonexistent, the previous five All-Star games have been won by a total of 23 points.
Of the five, a couple of them have been two-possession games, while two have been won by only a basket. Whether or not the game is close, however, it will, as always, be entertaining. Behind MVP Kyrie Irving, last year, the East took the game for the first time since 2010, but don’t expect a repeat.
Although the East boasts the best player in the World, in Irving’s teammate, LeBron James, the West is stacked. Also, look for a big man to win by MVP for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal in 2009.
The West will by double-digits and Anthony Davis will be the MVP, which may, very well, not be the only MVP award he picks up this year.
The action begins tomorrow, Friday Feb. 13, with the Celebrity Game and the Rising Stars Challenge. The 64th NBA All-Star game will tip-off, from Madison Square Garden, at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday and can be seen on TNT.
For more on this weekend’s events and rosters, go to NBA.com/All-Star.
Katelyn Clooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org