Monday, February 19, 2018

What We Learned From the NBA All-Star Game

By Marc James

LeBron James was named All-Star MVP after dropping 29 points in his team's narrow 148-145 victory over Team Stephen on Sunday. The new All-Star Game format, which saw James and Stephen Curry choose teams in a draft-style selection, proved to be a roaring success. Team Stephen led by 15 points in the first half, with DeMar DeRozan and Joel Embiid impressing, but Team LeBron mounted a stirring second-half comeback. What does the game tell us about how the remainder of the season might develop? Here are five things we learned:

James Can Lead the Cavs to the Finals

James relished the opportunity to select his own roster after the league abandoned the East vs. West format for the first time since the All-Star Game began in 1951. He took the process more seriously than Curry and ended up with a better team. It delivered on its promise with a thrilling victory, despite injuries to four of his initial selections. James was at the heart of the win, leading the game on points and casting a giant shadow over proceedings.

Ironically, his best work came in tandem with Kyrie Irving, who forced a trade away from Cleveland last summer, leaving James to prop up the Cavs. James fell out with Isaiah Thomas, who went in the opposite direction to Irving in the trade, but he seems rejuvenated now that Cleveland has rolled the dice and overhauled its roster in the trade deadline, bringing in Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood, and Larry Nance, Jr. for Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Thomas, and Dwyane Wade. The previously ailing Cavs responded by destroying the Celtics, and they once again look like a solid bet to win the east.

Cleveland is now priced at around the $1.20 (+120) mark with the sportsbooks on Oddschecker.com and that looks tempting. James may even overhaul rival James Harden, who struggled in the All-Star Game, in the race to be named regular season MVP.

The Future is Bright For Philadelphia

At just 23 years of age, Embiid showed in the All-Star Game why he is the best center in the league. In 20 minutes on the court he scored 19 points, took 8 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots. It was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Embiid, who has broken his right foot twice and torn the meniscus in his left knee, ensuring he played just 31 games in his first three years after being drafted by the 76ers. But he is now injury-free and enjoyed a breakout season last year, finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year stakes, with teammate Dario Saric in third.

This year, he has kicked on even further and looks certain to lead the Sixers into the playoffs. Alongside him, Ben Simmons looks a certainty to be named Rookie of the Year. Simmons was snubbed for the All-Star Game this year, but he should become a regular starter in future. Markelle Fultz is still to return, while Saric continues on an upward curve, and Philadelphia is on the brink of greatness. Right now, no team will want to face the 76ers in the postseason.

Timberwolves Can Benefit From Butler's Rest

Of all the matches to take a rest in, Jimmy Butler opted to sit out the All-Star Game. He leads the league in minutes per game this season and is understandably fatigued, but it was odd to see him not register a single minute in the big exhibition match. Butler chose to prioritize his team's run-in to the regular season, and that can only benefit the Timberwolves, who are currently fourth in the West. Butler's Minnesota teammate, Karl-Anthony Towns, was outstanding in the All-Star Game, with 17 points and 10 rebounds for Team Stephen. With those two on song, Minnesota will also be a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.

Dubs Must Beware of Complacency

Social media went into overdrive when images circulated of Curry munching popcorn on the bench while waiting for the second half of the game to start. It highlighted just how trivial the All-Star Game really is for some players, but Curry's attitude stood in stark contrast to James'. The Cavs star put his heart and soul into the game and walked off with the MVP award, but Curry could not care less. After all, he has won three NBA championship rings in the last four years and the Warriors are the clear favorites to win it again this time around.

But Golden State needs to guard against complacency: it has already fallen behind the highly motivated Houston Rockets in the Western Conference after losing to teams it should have destroyed. It is time for Curry and company to start taking the season more seriously as they cannot simply stroll to victory, given the strength of Houston's starting five.

L.A. Teams Have a Long Road Ahead

The All-Star Game took place in L.A., but the home fans did not have a single Clipper or Laker to cheer on. The teams are ninth and 11th respectively in the west, and did not yield any all-star representatives this year. It created a strange atmosphere inside the arena, so the locals got behind players with Los Angeles roots: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, and Klay Thompson. But it highlighted just how long the road ahead is for those teams, bereft of star quality and in desperate need of a facelift.

Contents copyright © Sports Central 1998-2017