If ever there was an All-Star Weekend designed for first-timers, it is the one coming up at the end of this month in Orlando. The prospect of having four consecutive days off – or five or, for some teams, as many as six – ought to shimmer like a desert oasis and beckon to any NBA veteran or even a been-there-done-that youngster who has had a previous All-Star taste and now mostly needs a nap.
Savvy NBA fans – by that, of course, we mean you – understood this and voted for their rivals’ top guys to further grind them through a hectic weekend of exertions, obligations and distractions on the road. Alas, casual fans – they know who they are – went more traditional, clamoring for their favorite marquee guys already doing the heaviest lifting.
That’s why four of the five East starters from the 2011 game in L.A. are back. So, for that matter, is Carmelo Anthony, who started for the West last year.
Derrick Rose, Chicago – Rose (23.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 7.7 apg) has made it clear he dislikes All-Star games, where winning barely matters and he’s expected to play nice with teammates he’d rather trounce. Then again, the way the Bulls’ MVP self-motivates, he probably is still peeved that the West won last year and that, in a game in which his side got 57 field goals, Rose had just five assists in 30 minutes.
Dwyane Wade, Miami – Now 30, Wade keeps hearing talk about his impending decline. His body should have marker scars like old Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers’ mask. And Miami is 8-1 in games he has missed this season. But he remains dangerous at both ends, has averaged 22 points in his last four (20.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.5 apg for the season) and has perfected the transition game with James.
LeBron James, Miami – Already playing like an MVP favorite (29.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.0 apg), James can’t help himself from flirting with the Slam Dunk organizers (“I’ll be on the fence every year about it,” he said Wednesday). But what folks really want to see is James locking-and-loading on Blake Griffin – and vice versa – on Sunday as the other eight guys on the floor hang back. Who scales whom?
Carmelo Anthony, New York – Good thing for ‘Melo (23.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.4 apg) that fans aren’t as hung up as the coaches on All-Stars only coming from teams with records at or above .500. He’s alone among the 10 starters in not qualifying on that point and his scoring and shooting stats (40.4 percent) have drooped too. But he needs the ASG, if only as a stand-in for the playoffs’ second round, which Anthony has seen once.
Dwight Howard, Orlando – You have to wonder how many of Howard’s vote tally came from Orlando fans vs. fans hoping to curry favor for teams eager to acquire him. It’s been the unsubtle subplot of his season. Odds are he’ll still be the biggest and most important piece of the Magic’s puzzle come Feb. 26 – his numbers still crackle (20.1 ppg, 15.4 rpg, 2.1 apg) – but the response he gets from the crowd will be curious, given what his Hamlet act has done to the Magic’s ambitions.