The NBA All-Star festivities get underway tonight in New Orleans with the ever-polarizing NBA Celebrity All-Star Game followed up by the Rising Stars Challenge. Both games are garnering a bit more attention this year compared to prior years, but as we all know this is just an appetizer for the main course that is the real All-Star Game. This year, we get to see the East All-Stars taking on the Golden State Warriors (essentially).
As a basketball fan, this year's All-Star Game has multiple storylines worth following, but none are more prevalent than the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook relationship. The two feuding superstars will not only be teammates, but they will likely see time on the court together. It is going to be interesting to watch the dynamic of these two in what is supposed to be a friendly and laid-back environment. I'm eager to see if they even talk, let alone pass the ball to each other.
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This year marks the 66th edition of the All-Star Game, and this will mark New Orleans' second time hosting the event. The first was back in 2008 when LeBron James led the East to a 134-128 win, and he also captured MVP honors.
The Eastern Conference holds a 37-28 record against its Western Conference foes dating back to the first ever All-Star Game played in 1951 at Boston Garden. The Western Conference has shown its superiority lately, however, by winning five out of the last six games and six out of the last eight.
Last season the Western Conference, who closed as a six-point favorite, defeated the Eastern Conference by a final score of 196-173. They easily covered the six-point spread and the total easily soared over the number of 318.5. Russell Westbrook won his second consecutive MVP award and has a good chance to threepeat considering the rate he is producing triple-doubles this year.
Eastern Conference Starting Lineups
Guard -Kyrie Irving (CLE)
Guard -DeMar DeRozan (TOR)
Forward - LeBron James (CLE)
Forward -Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)
Forward -Jimmy Butler (CHI)
Western Conference Starting Lineups
Guard - Steph Curry - (GSW)
Guard -James Harden (HOU)
Forward - Anthony Davis (NWO)
Forward - Kevin Durant (OKC)
Forward - Kawhi Leonard (SAS)
The starting lineups for both teams seem to have what every team is trying to mimic these days - skilled ball handlers and hot shooters. There is relatively no inside presence, with the exception of Anthony Davis, who is one of the best "centers" in the game today. Even so, his ability to space the floor and handle the rock, while knocking down outside shots, is something big men of yesteryear can only dream about.
With that said, picking a winner in any all-star game is tough. There are several factors to take into consideration, with the main one being effort. Nobody outside of the locker room has any idea or indication what kind of effort we will see on the court from any one particular player. We all know that the word defense is synonymous with a curse word for the better part of 48 minutes, but we have seen that the competition level typically rises once the fourth quarter rolls around.
Despite the Western Conference's dominance over the past eight years, I like the East to get the job done this year. The West has too many distractions and chemistry issues to work around, and I really believe the Westbrook/Durant feud will be more of a distraction than anything else.
The East lineup from top to bottom features players with amazing ball-handling skills and abilities that can break open a game of this nature. Guys like John Wall and Isaiah Thomas are playing out of their mind for their respective teams, and pure scorers like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will likely flourish in this non-contact game.
Pick: Eastern Conference +5, -110
The MVP is typically given out to a player on the winning team. With that said, since I like the East this year, there are a two guys I will be banking on to earn MVP honors. If you read my Three-Point Contest article, you would know that Kyrie Irving is my selection because he has been on cloud nine since his clutch Game 7, title-winning shot. Irving currently sits at +750 to win the MVP award. And with no other true point guard, Irving will likely be the one getting extra minutes and setting everything up. Another player I am going to throw into the mix is the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Despite playing in Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo is turning heads around the league. He has the skills and athleticism needed to be a big-time player in the NBA, and Sunday night could very well be his coming-out party. You can get him at +1200, which is tremendous value.
Pick: Kyrie Irving +700 and Giannis Antetokounmpo +1200
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