NBA All-Star Weekend is nearly here, and if the actual showcase is as exciting as the pre-break run-up, we’re in for a treat.
We’ve seen superteams emerge in each conference during the unofficial first half of the year, with the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks outpacing everyone’s wildest expectations. No fewer than six representatives from those teams will be on display in New York this weekend.
The All-Star Game itself will serve as a showcase for the best and brightest of the season to date, and so will the various auxiliary events.
The Foot Locker Three-Point Contest will feature arguably the best field ever, led by Kyle Korver and his cartoonish accuracy rate from deep. He’ll be joined by Curry and his brother in splash, Klay Thompson.
We’ll also be treated to a Sprite Slam Dunk Contest made up of four youthful competitors, all of whom will be looking to make their mark.
Toss in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and you’ve got a weekend overloaded with entertainment.
A season that’s been nothing short of remarkable so far deserves an All-Star Weekend that lives up to those lofty standards. It looks like that’s exactly what we’ll get.
Let’s face it, All-Star Weekend is about five core events: the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game itself.
There are, however, a handful of other events. They may not get the viewership of the Big Five, but they’re part of the whole deal. So if you’re a real hoops junkie, you’ll want to know the details on the following:
Sprint Celebrity Game
Friday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan won’t be participating this year, which means the title of “guy who tries hardest and throws the most behind-the-back passes” is up for grabs.
Look to Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, who once challenged Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one with $1 million stakes, to step into Duncan’s max-effort role.
In addition to the usual roster of celebs (Kevin Hart, Common and Win Butler will play), we’ll see former NBA stars Allan Houston and Chris Mullin suit up, as well as WNBA players Skylar Diggins and Tina Charles.
Hart is looking for his fourth celebrity game MVP. He will yell a lot and probably take his shoes off at some point.
Degree Shooting Stars
Saturday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m. ET (first event) on TNT
If you’ve forgotten, this is the event that involves three-person teams comprised of a current NBA player, a former one and a WNBA player.
The teams compete in a timed competition that requires four makes from four different spots on the floor, culminating on a half-court attempt that typically provides the most drama.
|Team Bosh||Team Curry||Team Davis||Team Westbrook|
|Chris Bosh||Stephen Curry||Anthony Davis*||Russell Westbrook|
|Dominique Wilkins||Dell Curry||Scottie Pippen||Penny Hardaway|
|Swin Cash||Sue Bird||Elena Delle Donne||Tamika Catchings|
*Note: A sprained shoulder will keep Anthony Davis out of the All-Star Game, per NBA.com, so we should expect a replacement (and a new name for his team) here.
Degree Battle of the Game Changers
Saturday, Feb. 14, at 10:30 a.m. ET on NBATV
This isn’t an official All-Star Weekend event, but it’s worth mentioning.
Basically, Stephen Curry and John Wall are going to play some version of HORSE during the Saturday practice at Madison Square Garden. If you feel like getting an early start to your Saturday, this might be a good option.
Now, on to the main course.
BBVA Rising Stars Challenge
When to Watch
Friday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m. ET on TNT
Trey Burke (UTA), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (DET), Michael Carter-Williams (PHI)*, Zach LaVine (MIN), Shabazz Muhammad (MIN), Nerlens Noel (PHI), Victor Oladipo (ORL), Elfrid Payton (ORL), Mason Plumlee (BKN), Cody Zeller (CHA)
World RosterSteven Adams (OKC)*, Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Bojan Bogdanovic (BKN), Matthew Dellavedova (CLE), Gorgui Dieng (MIN), Dante Exum (UTA), Rudy Gobert (UTA), Nikola Mirotic (CHI), Jusuf Nurkic (DEN)*, Kostas Papanikolaou (HOU), Dennis Schroder (ATL), Andrew Wiggins (MIN)
What to ExpectYouth! Crazy stats! Diplomacy!
This year’s Rising Stars Challenge splits the teams (made up of rookies and sophomores) along international lines for the first time, pitting American players against a team comprised of internationals.
The headliner here is Wiggins, who has hauled in the last two Rookie of the Month Awards in the West and generally looked like the biggest star of the last two draft classes—by a hefty margin. Speaking of big, though, we should expect Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert to shine; Andre Drummond went off for 30 points and 25 rebounds in last year’s dunk-fest, and Gobert could be next in line to feast on lobs and offensive boards.
He might block a shot or two while he’s at it.
PredictionAfter watching Wiggins outclass the competition, the U.S. government will undertake a campaign lobbying for Canada to be absorbed into the United States. The sole purpose will be to get Wiggins onto the U.S. roster for next year’s Rising Stars Challenge.
Canada will politely assent.
Zach LaVine won’t be the game’s leading scorer, but he’ll provide the best above-the-rim highlights as a lead-up to his participation in the dunk contest.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
When to Watch
Saturday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m. ET (second event) on TNT
Patrick Beverley (HOU), Trey Burke (UTA), Jimmy Butler (CHI), Michael Carter-Williams (PHI)*, Brandon Knight (MIL), Kyle Lowry (TOR), Jeff Teague (ATL), Isaiah Thomas (PHX)
*Note: Carter-Williams hasn’t officially pulled out of this event, but his sore right foot likely means he’ll need a replacement here as well.
What to Expect
A bracketed tournament (which is a new wrinkle) in which players dribble, pass and shoot their way through a full-court obstacle course.
More specifically, we should expect at least one or two of the competitors to jog through their turns a little too casually (This always happens; run faster, guys! You’re being timed!). And one unlucky player always gets hung up on the top-of-the-arc jumper, using three or four attempts and burning through precious seconds.
Trey Burke is back to defend the title he won as part of the West team last year, and Jimmy Butler will participate in an effort to show point guards that wings can handle, cut and dish with the best of them. It’ll be fascinating to see if Butler’s 6’7″ frame is an asset or a hindrance as he navigates the dribble-weave portion of the contest.
Patrick Beverley will try harder than anyone else in the competition but will give up valuable time when he fails to resist the urge to guard the stationary defender cutouts.
Jeff Teague wins because this is the Atlanta Hawks’ world, and we’re all just living in it.
Foot Locker Three-Point Contest
When to Watch
Saturday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m. ET (third event) on TNT
Only the best field ever: Marco Belinelli (SAS), Stephen Curry (GSW), James Harden (HOU), Kyrie Irving (CLE), Kyle Korver (ATL), Wesley Matthews (POR), J.J. Redick (LAC), Klay Thompson, (GSW)
What to Expect
Other than a whole bunch of made shots, perfect form and more anticipation for a shooting contest than we’ve ever seen? How about Kyle Korver making the entire rack from the right corner, which is a safe bet because he’s shooting 84.2 percent on spot-up shots in actual games from that location through Feb. 10 this season, per Synergy Sports.
The best part of this event is the field is basically optimal. The top five in three-point makes (Korver, Curry, Matthews, Thompson and Harden, in that order) are all involved. Belinelli won the whole thing last year, Irving won it in 2013 and Redick is shooting 43.7 percent from deep this year.
Don’t be surprised if this event hijacks some of the excitement from the dunk contest.
In a surprise move, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver declares the participants of the Three-Point and Slam Dunk Contests will switch events. Korver, who has dunked twice this season, wins on a 360 tomahawk he’s been saving for exactly this occasion.
Curry finally breaks through to win because he simply wants it more.
“I’m doing that until I win it,” Curry, who’s participated in three previous years (without a win), told Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’m salty about that.”
Sprite Slam Dunk Contest
When to Watch
Saturday, Feb. 14, at 8:30 p.m. ET (fourth event) on TNT
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Zach LaVine (MIN), Victor Oladipo (ORL), Mason Plumlee (BKN)
What to Expect
Something incredible from LaVine.
This guy can flat-out fly, and he’s shown the lift, creativity and showmanship necessary to thrive in this format—which, by the way, will not include the West vs. East setup of a year ago. In a wise move, the format will be strictly old school, featuring every dunker for himself in a two-round dunk-off.
This is an odd field, with two players in Antetokounmpo (6’11”) and Plumlee (6’11”) a little on the tall side, which has always been something of a detriment in competitions. Bigger guys just don’t create the illusion of flight as well as smaller ones.
Though both Antetokounmpo and Plumlee can throw down, it seems safe to put their odds of winning below both LaVine and Oladipo.
Oladipo has announced he’ll donate his contest earnings to charity, per NBA.com, which is both a fantastic gesture and a smart strategic move. If you’re a judge, how do you vote against the guy giving the prize away to those who need it?
Still, LaVine is going to be tough to beat.
TNT producers will take analyst Kenny Smith literally when he shouts “It’s over!” after a double-clutch reverse from Oladipo in the first round, causing an early end to the broadcast. Rizzoli & Isles will be joined in progress.
LaVine breaks out a windmill from the foul line in the final round for the win over Oladipo.
When to Watch
Sunday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Chris Bosh (MIA), Jimmy Butler (CHI), Pau Gasol (CHI), Al Horford (ATL), Kyrie Irving (CLE), LeBron James, (CLE), Kyle Korver (ATL)*, Kyle Lowry (TOR), Paul Millsap (ATL), Jeff Teague (ATL), Dwyane Wade (MIA), John Wall (WAS)
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR), Kobe Bryant (LAL), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC)*, Stephen Curry (GSW), Anthony Davis (NOP), Tim Duncan (SAS), Kevin Durant (OKC), Marc Gasol (MEM), Blake Griffin (LAC), James Harden (HOU), Damian Lillard (POR)*, Dirk Nowitzki (DAL)*, Chris Paul (LAC), Klay Thompson (GSW), Russell Westbrook (OKC)
*Injury replacements for Wade, Bryant, Griffin and Davis.
What to ExpectDefense.
Kidding. Last year’s All-Star Game set a record for most total points (318), and we shouldn’t be surprised if this year’s edition pushes up to or beyond that figure.
The amount of three-point shooting and offensive skill involved here is staggering. And with six first-timers (Lowry, Butler, Korver, Teague, Thompson and Cousins), there’ll be no shortage of players looking to make a statement.
Per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:
I fully expect a totally free-flowing, up-and-down, send-the-fans-home-happy type of game. I see the West’s talent advantage ([Steve] Kerr’s second unit might be better, on paper, than [Mike] Budenholzer’s starters) winning out in a wild one and setting a new record for points along the way. Too optimistic? Shouldn’t any team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and James Harden top at least 150?
It’ll be interesting to see if (but more likely when) East coach Mike Budenholzer puts all four of his Atlanta Hawks on the floor together. He has to do it, right? It’s what the people want, and it’s also probably the best way to pay homage to one of the top stories of the 2014-15 season: the Hawks’ fantastic run to the top of the East.
If Budenholzer’s smart, he’ll put them out there with one of the few members of the East roster who’ll become free agents this summer—perhaps Butler or James. Both are likely to re-sign with their current teams, but maybe Budenholzer can give them a quick primer in how great it is to play with Atlanta’s well-oiled system.
It’s worth a shot.
PredictionThanks to unerring politeness, the Gasol brothers (who’ll start at center for the East and West) will delay the start of the game by 46 minutes because they refuse to participate in the jump ball. Each is repeatedly heard telling the other, “No, please, you take the ball. I insist.”
The most courteous impasse in All-Star history ends when Westbrook springs from the bench, steals the ball and blasts off for a tomahawk dunk.
Real PredictionHarden secures his first All-Star MVP with 34 points, drilling seven threes and hitting all nine of his free-throw attempts. He leads the West to a 161-153 victory.
(Courtesy of BleacherReport.com)