NASA, home to the most advanced space exploration and research agency on Planet Earth, is always looking further, always looking ahead, deeper and deeper into space and at the billions stars that shine at us from deep across the galaxies. But no matter how far they look up, they always look back down at their headquarters in Houston, Texas, from where Space is brought to the rest of Earth.
This year, you don’t need NASA to find stars in Houston.
The home of the Houston Rockets is hosting basketball’s biggest annual festival – the 2013 NBA All Star Game – on Sunday, February 17th (Monday morning in India). Between LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and fans’ leading vote-getter Kobe Bryant, the exhibition will feature some of the biggest names in basketball today. All your favourite players (or at least most of them; sorry D-Rose) will be on the same court together, bringing fans in over 200 countries basketball’s biggest party.
The All-Star Weekend is more than just the East vs. West game, though. Between an exhibition of celebrities, rising stars, shooting, and dunking competitions, there is always a lot of action and fun that takes place at the venue each year.
The Rising Stars Challenge took place last evening featuring the best rookies and sophomores in the league divided in teams picked by Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. Barkley’s team ‘Team Chuck’ emerged victorious 163-135 behind an energetic performance by Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets, who tallied 40 points and 10 rebounds and was named the game’s MVP.
All-Star Saturday events will have a twist this year. Each event will be divided into Eastern and Western Conference teams, with players from each conference teaming together to gain points for their side against the other. Dwyane Wade (East) and Chris Paul (West) were chosen by the NBA as ‘captains’ of their respective conferences on All-Star Saturday, although neither will be taking part in any event that night.
And to prepare you for the action over the next two days, here are my predictions for the events during the rest of the All-Star Weekend.
D-League All Star Game
Not a lot of fans pay attention to the NBDL, but there is always some top talent waiting on the wings to get a shot back with the NBA. Jeremy Lin, Matt Barnes, Marcin Gortat, Bobby Simmons, Chuck Hayes, JJ Barea, Ramon Sessions, Brandon Bass, and many, many more have past D-League experience. This year, the D-League All-Star Game will be played between the ‘Futures’ and the ‘Prospects’. I don’t know anything about anything about the NBDL, so I will base my prediction solely on the team with whom I think is the best player – Iowa’s Chris Wright – which is the Prospects.
Don’t really care about this event so much. Some NBA players with some WNBA players with some old players shoot from different points on the court. And one of those teams wins. *Yawn*. I’ll go with Team Harden to win just because I like his beard.
Ah…now we’re talking. The Skills Challenge is always kinda fun. This year, running through an obstacle course that test a players’ fundamentals of shooting, dribbling, and passing (it’s a competition ideal for point guards) will be defending champions Tony Parker, Damian Lillard, and Jeremy Lin (West) against Jrue Holiday, Brandon Knight, and Jeff Teague (East). Going by the afterglow of last year’s Linsanity alone, I’m going to say that young Lin Shu-How (Jeremy) is going to steal this one under the nose of his teammate Tony Parker. Expect Lin to snake his way into the All-Star Weekend some way or another every year, and this seems like the most likely event for him.
It’s hard to believe that 6’10” rebound specialist Kevin Love won this contest last year. But Love is out with injury this year, and this contest is open to a list of a highly entertaining combination of star names and pure sharp-shooters. Competing from the East are Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and Steve Novak, while from the West the shooters will be Ryan Anderson, Matt Bonner and Stephen Curry.
Curry should’ve been an All Star this season, but since he missed the coach’s choice in the reserves, he’ll have a point to prove here. He has the NBA’s second-best 3-pt shooting percentage. Young Irving is a streaky scorer and can make for an entertaining show. But I’m choosing New York’s Steve Novak aka the ‘Novokaine’ to bring down the house and take home the title!
Slam Dunk Contest
In my eyes, the contest peaked in 2000 with Vince Carter’s super-heroics, and no amount of Dwight Cape-wearing, Nate Kryptonating, Blake’s car jumping or Gerald Green’s Cupcake has won me back since. But I’m feeling quite optimistic about this year, mainly because of the inclusion of dunking legend James ‘Flight’ White in the mix for the East side. Also joining White in the East are Terrence Ross and Gerald Green. The West features reigning champ Jeremy Evans along with Eric Bledsoe and Kenneth Faried. It’s a solid cast of legitimately exciting dunkers. I predict this is the year that White shows the NBA why he is considered to be one of the most athletic and creative dunkers in the world.
Done with the amateur stuff. Let’s get to the main event. The All Star Game itself. A bombastic celebration of the best and most entertaining talent that the NBA has to offer. Like a rock show of basketball’s current legends.
The All-Star rosters this year are:
East – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Tyson Chandler, Luol Deng, Paul George, Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving, Brook Lopez, and Joakim Noah.
West – Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, James Harden, David Lee, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph, and Russell Westbrook.
Lopez was chosen later to join the East team after the season-ending injury to Rondo. East coach Erik Spoelstra will decide who to start in Rondo’s place, and many guess that it will be Irving.
All-Star Games have a similar pattern. The first quarter begins with some sloppy play and exciting dunks and no defense. Then the older or slightly-injured players sit down after a cameo appearances (Garnett, Anthony, and Howard this year) and bench players bring the same energy of athletic play and no defense through to the second quarter. By halftime, players are just about warming up, but the fans have seen enough excitement to keep them totally engrossed. There’s some music by some famous person. Third quarter is more of the same, but this is when players who are really serious to aim for the All Star MVP award start to pad their stats a little. I’m looking at the likes of Durant, LeBron, Kobe, and even Russell Westbrook here.
Fourth quarter, the game will stop being an exhibition and start being a real basketball contest. If the scores are closed, defenses will get tighter and coaches will actually draw plays. Each big shot will have to be followed by a bigger one. Just like last season’s All Star Game and NBA Finals, I believe that the result of this game will come down to the world’s best players on each conference – Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Luckily for Durant, the West team looks deeper and better on paper at this point, and he has a now-healthy Chris Paul on his side, as well as Houston’s own James Harden who will surely look to have a big game to impress the home fans. I predict that Durant will repeat last year’s All Star MVP performance to take top honours again and help the West win in a high-scoring game.
And after the show is over, Houston can return the stars back to their own respective galaxies, back to their own cities and teams. And we’ll return to the regular scheduled programming: regular season basketball to close out this exciting season!