NBA All Star Preview
The rosters are set for the 2015 NBA All-Star game, taking place on Sunday evening at basketball’s Mecca, New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The NBA’s conference imbalance is further highlighted by the number of so-called snubs out West, while the Eastern team struggles to maintain its stellar billing. That said, on the court the two squads will certainly be keen to ensure bragging rights, although the intensity levels won’t quite reach 100 percent. The All-Star game is well known for being an exhibition-style match featuring plenty of tricks and little defense, but the last few matches have been engaging down the stretch.
Brothers in arms
One family certain to enjoy the event is the Gasol family, who will witness history as brothers Pau and Marc face off for the opening tip. They are the only foreigners involved in this year’s matchup, although the NBA are investigating different formats – this year’s Rising Stars Challenge will feature a USA squad taking on a World squad of the league’s best first- and second-year players.
It’s still probably a few years until USA versus World can become an option on the main stage, but the strength of the Western Conference is such that its squad does not contain any players from the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns, despite both teams’ strong seasons so far.
Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki will likely be happy to have the week off anyway, but Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler could have staked a claim. Phoenix have been more of a team who perform well collectively, but Eric Bledsoe has put together a strong season and Markieff Morris has emerged as a quality big man.
But none of those players were able to crack the top 14 among the West, a number swollen from the usual 12 by injury withdrawals for Blake Griffin and Kobe Bryant. Alongside those two and Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis and Steph Curry were the other two players voted in by the fans, with Tim Duncan of the 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs and Kevin Durant, the 2014 MVP, leading the reserves.
Durant is joined by his Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook – there’s no doubting the star power of this dangerous duo, but they have both missed significant time due to injury this season, and it’s unfortunate for the 10th-placed team in the standings to have two representatives while fifth-placed Dallas and eighth-placed Phoenix go without.
James Harden and Chris Paul were obvious choices for spots on the West bench, and Damian Lillard joined Portland teammate LaMarcus Aldridge after being chosen by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as an injury replacement.
Sacramento’s talented big man DeMarcus Cousins was Silver’s other choice, and he is joined by Golden State’s Klay Thompson as the only first-timers among the West squad. Houston’s Dwight Howard was one of a number of big names to miss out, although injury ultimately meant he wouldn’t have made it anyway.
The Eastern team features three first-timers, including Toronto playmaker Kyle Lowry, who was voted in by the fans. Alongside him in the starting five is the weekend’s host, the Knicks’ own Carmelo Anthony, as well as LeBron James, Pau Gasol and John Wall.
Atlanta’s team success in leading the Eastern Conference is rewarded as Al Horford and Paul Millsap are joined by Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for the latter pair’s first All-Star appearances. Chicago’s Jimmy Butler will also be making his All-Star debut, and LeBron’s Cleveland teammate Kyrie Irving is back to defend his 2014 All-Star game MVP award.
But Toronto and Washington each end up with only one representative, albeit understandably when you consider their rosters, which don’t scream star power. It’s hard to understand the push by some pundits for European centers Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat, both of whom have had their struggles, and the quality pair of shooting guards in DeMar DeRozan and Bradley Beal have both suffered with injury problems this year.
Their teams have won more than 60 percent of their games though, while Miami have lost more than half of theirs. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are still performing well but probably getting in here on reputation and a lack of alternatives. Wade has been forced to withdraw due to a hamstring injury, with Korver replacing him.
But the East’s sixth-placed team, the Milwaukee Bucks, couldn’t snag a spot despite Brandon Knight’s strong season, making a total of four current playoff teams unrepresented at the party.
Cleveland’s Kevin Love, a starter in last year’s West team, and Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are among the notable absentees in the East.
The players will enjoy a break from the rigors of the intense 82-game season, despite All-Star weekend’s myriad media commitments, before returning to action next week for the final stretch of the playoff push.