Rising Stars, Shining Stars, & Fading Stars – Preview of the 2012 All Star Weekend

Cleveland. Minnesota. Charlotte. Utah. Night in and night out, NBA players across the North-American hemisphere are putting in work, some are putting on a show, while others are quietly stacking up wins. Distracted by the big city/big team hype, you may not hear about many regularly, but nearly every NBA city has a rising star to watch for the future, a shining star enjoying his prime, or a fading star that still has enough in his tank for a few last miles. But many of them deserve to be heard, deserve to be seen and cheered, and that is why, the NBA All Star Weekend works so brilliantly. Of course, the majority of us first and foremost want to catch our marquee favourites – the Kobes, LeBrons, Durants, Dirks, Roses, and gulp, the Lins! – but what makes the weekend’s festitivies so much more fun is that we get to catch up with those other stars, either in the All Star Game itself or in one of the many other events during the course of the weekend. It’s been exactly two months since the 2011/12 NBA season tipped off – just two short months, because of the delayed, locked-out start to the season – and already, in the tough, condensed NBA schedule, we’ve arrived at the NBA’s mid-season classic, which is being held in Orlando. Before we get to the preview of the events, here’s a little review first: the Rising Stars Game took place earlier today, as Charles Barkley’s team surprised early predictions to defeat Shaq’s team 146-133, and it really wasn’t even that close in the second half. The difference maker on the two sides was Kyrie Irving – the number one picked rookie of the Cavaliers – who shot an incredible 8/8 from the three point line, scoring 34 in a win for his side. The Celebrity Game took place on Friday night/Saturday morning in India too. But I honestly didn’t care much about it beyond the fact that Penny Hardaway played! I also care little for the Shooting Stars competition from All Star Saturday night – sorry if you’ve been waiting to hear my opinion on whether or not ‘Team Atlanta’ can be defeated this year. The D-League All Star Game is taking place on the same day – a lot of great up-and-coming NBA players have earned their chops in the D-League before (including that one Asian guy in the Knicks everyone keeps talking about). It will be interesting to see who the new standouts are. Skills Challenge Ah… Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve always liked this competition, because it pits together elite players of my favourite position on the court: the point guard! This year, the playing field will be between Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, and Deron Williams. Curry was the quickest amongst the crew last time around, and will be defending his title against some of the best in his position. Curry’s speed on the ball and sharp-shooting ability gives him a unique advantage for this particular event, but this year, I believe that it will decided between either Kyrie Irving or Deron Williams. Following his Rising Stars MVP performance, Irving will be looking to make this a memorable weekend and take home another piece of silverware. But I’m going to hand the edge to Deron Williams, who probably feels that he is spending a year in relative obscurity with the Nets, and will be coming in hard here to remind people that he’s still around and yes, that he’s going to be a free agent in the summer. Three-Point Shooting Competition Joe Johnson, due to an injury, was replaced from the list of participants for this challenge, and instead we will have someone that NBA fans are perhaps a lot happier to see… Kevin Durant! Durant will headline a field which includes Ryan Anderson of the Magic, Anthony Morrow of the Nets, Mario Chalmers and James Jones of the Heat, and surprisingly, double-double machine Kevin Love of the Timberwolves. A lot of interesting things to note here. First of all, Morrow will be paying tribute to Nets sharp-shooting legend Drazen Petrovic, the Yugoslavia/Croatia superstar who lost his life at 29, just as he was about to break out as an NBA star. Morrow will be wearing Petrovic’s Nets jersey at the competition. Now, won the shootout a year ago, and really, he seems to be the quiet assassin to be a threat again this year. Of course, most of the cheers will be saved for Kevin Durant – and I’m gonna side with him to find a hot-streak and win this competition. And Kevin Love? How did that happen? I would’ve really loved to see Ray Allen take part again, along with the Knicks’ newfound sniper Steve Novak and Matt Bonner of the Spurs. Slam Dunk Contest Sorry folks, no Blake Griffin this year. The most exciting dunker in the league will be taking a break from the competition after dunking over a car last year. That’s fine, I thought, I could live with Griffin’s absence as long as Iman Shumpert, the Knicks’ high-flier, was going to be a part of the proceedings. But a week ago, Shumpert pulled out too because of an injury, and with his absence comes the disappointment that no, we will perhaps not be able to see the funniest dunk of all time in this contest. It was later revealed that Shumpert had planned to dunk the ball over teammate Jeremy Lin, who would be lying down on the infamous couch on which he supposedly crashed on while looking for a place to live in New York and simultaneously becoming a worldwide phenomenon. I will relive this dunk in my dreams, though. This year’s list of participants include Paul George (Pacers), Chase Budinger (Rockets), Derrick Williams (Timberwolves), and Shumpert’s replacement, Jeremy Evans (Jazz). From what I’ve heard, it is Jeremy Evans whom we all have to keep an eye on. This year, there is only one round of dunks and fans will be voting completely for the winners. Since there are no superstars in the field, there is a good chance that fan voting may actually be fair – and I’m predicting that Evans will be the champ by the end of the evening. All Star Game Finally… We’re down to the main event. The starting lineups have been voted in. East (Rose, Wade, Anthony, James, Howard) vs. West (Paul, Bryant, Durant, Griffin, Bynum). The reserves have been chosen in by the coaches too for the East (Bosh, Deng, Hibbert, Iguodala, Pierce, Rondo (replacement for Joe Johnson), Deron Williams) and West (Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Love, Nash, Nowitzki, Parker, Westbrook). The coaches have been chosen from teams which had the best records in their respective conferences (at the time of choosing), with Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks leading the East and the West respectively. It’s time to let the stars – old and new – shine. And the ‘new’ part is of particular significance, because, more than ever, we’ll be seeing a lot of new names in the list. I had predicted earlier that, because of a shortened season, a lot of younger players have been playing close to the All-Star-level, while the veterans have basically been saving their energy for the post-season. Andrew Bynum, Luol Deng, Roy Hibbert, Andre Iguodala, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Marc Gasol are the new names this year. A lot of well-known names who are usually in and around the circle of NBA stars will be taking a holiday this year. Leading the way are veteran All Stars Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Other big men like Pau Gasol and Amar’e Stoudemire have also not made it this time around. So what do I expect from the remaining bunch? Despite all the infusion of young blood, there is a host of familiar faces who have all been here and done that before. Kobe will hit some impossible-looking shots. LeBron will get a near triple-double without anyone realising that he’s done so. Wade will nearly injure himself trying a difficult layup. Blake Griffin will have many, many highlight reel dunks. And Derrick Rose will be the fastest player on the court. The All Star Game can be reduced to a non-serious exhibition at certain stretches, that’s why my favourite part of the game is towards the end, the fourth quarter, especially if it’s a close game. This is when the great separate themselves from the good, and the superstars from the All Stars. It will also be interesting to see which players the coaches choose to end games with. The starting fives have been decided by the fans – but the more important, finishing fives, will be the ones that we should all keep an eye on. Step back and take a look and you’ll see that, even on paper, both teams seem to be quite evenly matched. I think the East have a better starting lineup, but the West have greater depth in the bench. Kobe was the MVP of the West squad that won it in his hometown LA last season. Will Dwight Howard – rumoured to be soon leaving his hometown – be that guy for the game in Orlando? I predict that the East will get their revenge and come out winners in this game, with either LeBron or Wade (take your pick) running away with the MVP honours. Maybe the league will give it to the both of them – it’s happened before, of course. The West will probably see a big performance from Kevin Durant, who seems to get points so easily in transition, and the All Star Game is pretty much all about transition. And who amongst the names – the risers, the shiners, or the faders – will be the biggest name when the dust settles on the frantic weekend? It was Kobe in LA a year ago. In a few days, we’ll figure out who becomes the brightest star in the glittery NBA galaxy.

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