Feb 7, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
A week from now the eyes of the basketball world will be on New Orleans for the NBA’s Damian Lillardapalooza. … er, I mean the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
While Sunday’s All-Star Game is the big show, I’ve always found Saturday night’s series of skill contests more fun than the no-D exhibition that is the All-Star Game itself. So, in the spirit of gambling (I guess), let’s take a stab at handicapping the three big events of All-Star Saturday night.
All predictions here must come with this caveat — they have changed the format this season to start with a freestyle round where everyone is dunking, then a series of head-to-head dunk “battles” to decide if the East or West wins. I have no idea how this will change the feel of the event and how the format will effect who wins it. That said, I’ll make a prediction anyway on who wins the “Dunker of the Night” as voted by the fans.
Favorite: Paul George, Indiana Pacers. There are three factors in his favor. First and foremost, the fans vote on the award and George is a popular budding superstar. This is a popularity contest to a degree. Second, he has done this before. George has been in the dunk contest and that matters because there is a distinct difference between an in-game dunk and an exhibition dunk and having done this before he should get it. Third, and most importantly, he can really throw it down.
Others at the front of the pack: Terrence Ross and John Wall. Ross won the Dunk Contest last year and did it without props — he knows how to win and we know he can throw down. Wall has the perfect combination of athleticism and showmanship to win the Dunk Contest, plus he is a name known by fans.
Dark Horse: Ben McLemore of the Kings. He was supposed to be the best shooter in the last draft but he has real hops and has shown some impressive dunks this year.
Favorite: This is the hardest event to predict, but I’ll take Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns — he’s quick, he’s precise, and he grew up in a European system where they practiced the fundamentals more than most AAU coaches do stateside. Besides, the Suns deserve some recognition.
Others at the front of the pack: Watch out for the two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke. This is the kind of event that traditionally goes to skilled guys who are quick with the ball, your Tony Parkers of the world, and these two guys are both quick and skilled.
Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks… okay, I’m not sure he has a real shot at this, but I just want the Greek Freak to win.
Favorite: It’s got to be Stephen Curry. There are guys who have higher in-game shooting percentages but this is a contest about finding a groove and hitting big shots under pressure and nobody in the game right now does that better than Curry.
Others at the front of the pack: Really any of the guys in this group could get in a rhythm and win, but keep an eye on Marco Belinelli — he is knocking down 44.3 percent of his looks from beyond the arc this season, the highest percentage of anyone in the competition. Also don’t sleep on Kevin Love, who won this same competition two years ago and we know he can find a rhythm and win.
SATURDAY NIGHT’S BIGGEST WINNER
He’s performing before the Slam Dunk Contest and he’s the only thing I know I’ll love all night.
Nets 103, Spurs 89: The Spurs were without their big four (no Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard) yet they led in the first half by as many as 12 because they are the Spurs and they run their system. But eventually talent wins out in the NBA and Brooklyn just had more of it — although Alan Anderson may not be the first name you think of in Brooklyn he had the hot hand and had 22 points on the night as the Nets pulled away in the second half for the win.
Warriors 102, Bulls 87: Out of the gate Golden State just was not ready for the hard charging, aggressive style of Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls — they only know how to play one way. But again, as in the Nets game, at some point talent wins out and Golden State has guys who can create on offense that the Bulls just do not — Stephen Curry had 36 points on the night as the Warriors came back to get the win. But it was closer and harder fought than the score indicates (the Warriors closed on an 11-2 run).
Apr 18, 2014, 5:50 PM EDT
People shouldn’t sleep on the Raptors, particularly the Nets.
Apr 18, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT
Dallas has lost nine straight to San Antonio. Don’t expect that streak to stop now.
Apr 18, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
All the draft lottery odds are here, so Lakers fans can look and see what that little run of wins to close out the season did to their odds.
Apr 18, 2014, 3:27 PM EDT
We look at all 8 first round series.
Apr 18, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
Memphis’ grit and grind will make it hard on the Thunder.
Apr 18, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Rockets in 7
Apr 18, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
First-team frontcourt a constant, but guard spots debated
Apr 18, 2014, 12:29 PM EDT
Bulls in 6
Apr 18, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
While nothing is set in stone (Mike Woodson has yet to be officially fired) you know back channel conversations have already taken place. It sounds like Kerr wants in.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT
Behold: The Air Jordan XX9.
Apr 18, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Kevin Durant and LeBron James finish 1-2 on every ballot
Apr 18, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Playing effective NBA defense is more about dictating shot location than contesting shots.
Apr 18, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Taking a lot of 3s and making a lot of 2s is not easy
Apr 18, 2014, 9:15 AM EDT
With Andrew Bogut the Warriors outplayed the Clippers this season, but Golden State will be without him and that is trouble.
Apr 18, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
The league will try to offer a larger, better paying D-League
Apr 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Wizards also rise
Apr 18, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT
This is exactly what you’ve been waiting for — a dramatic reading of Space Jam including Blake Griffin and D’Andre Jordan.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:18 PM EDT
We may not see him on the sidelines of TNT games these playoffs.
Apr 17, 2014, 9:38 PM EDT
Center has $3.8 million player option
Apr 17, 2014, 8:34 PM EDT
All would make strong hires