If you had realistic expectations for All-Star weekend, you had to leave pretty pleased with what you saw. I completely missed the celebrity and Rookie/Sophomore games (not exactly by accident), but watched everything else starting with the Skills Challenge and ending with an All-Star Game that, if you’re an observer of the NBA superstar hierarchy, was nothing short of fascinating.
You could put the 2011 NBA All-Star Game in a time capsule and 20 years later you’d have a great idea of what the NBA was this season. Kobe Bryant, intent to prove that when compared to his peers, he still holds the upper hand. While the rest of the 23 All Stars seemed happy to feel things out early on, Bryant tromped through the first three quarters of the game like an elephant through an overgrown prairie.
Then LeBron James decided he’d had enough, and took over the game with a mixture of speed, power, desperation and anger. Effective? That’s an understatement. A better descriptive word would be “frightening.” If Kobe was an elephant trampling a grassy meadow, LeBron was an angry (hungry?) hippo charging into a swamp, causing crocodiles to flee in terror (and yes, when LeBron found himself guarded by a completely over-matched Pau Gasol and flew by him for yet another layup, Gasol was one of the scared crocs — actually, Gasol might as well have been wearing Crocs, his feet cemented to the floor like they were).
Then Kevin Durant quietly — yet assertively — came in and showed he’s the best scorer alive, icing last night’s game with dagger-jumpers similar to the ones Kobe made in the final game of the Olympics (of course, that was after Dwyane Wade, a forgotten man yesterday, saved the United States’ gold medal hopes as the best player in that game’s first 38 minutes). And the TV presentation ended with Kobe hoisting the MVP trophy as the rest of the All-Stars behind him mingled awkwardly, wondering when Mamba would hurry up and get old already.
Kobe clinging to the crown, LeBron as the NBA’s scariest athletic presence, Carmelo Anthony causing the most buzz and then playing as if he was nursing a slight hangover, and then Durant capping the night by proving he’s the game’s most offensively skilled player (again). Yep, that’s the NBA right now. Perhaps the All-Star game is too defense-phobic for some, but I enjoyed the game immensely, especially in the second half when LeBron started going coast-to-coast at 100 mph to make it a game, causing Kobe, Durant and Chris Paul to go from “this is fun” to “oh shit, it’s on” mode.
NBA Nuggets, starring a soon-to-be former Nug
– Stephen Curry’s performance in the skills challenge proved two things. First, one-handed passes do have a place (just maybe not when games are in the balance against strong defensive teams). Second, the rest of the country is a lot more excited about Curry’s future as an NBA point guard than thousands of fans around here.
– I was way more bummed than I thought I’d be after Paul Pierce hit that last money ball to knock Dorell Wright out of the 3-point contest. The only person more disappointed than myself (and several Warriors fans, players and employees, surely) was Wade, a good friend of Wright’s who also just happens to hate everything having to do with Boston.
– Wright may not have succeeded from the top of the key in the first round, but he definitely has the most effortless 3-point release in the NBA right now. I’d have a tough time releasing a shot that effortlessly on a Nerf hoop from across the living room.
– After Wade went out with some sort of ankle sprain, it was hardly surprising to see the four Celtics on the bench at the end of the game (until Doc Rivers put Ray Allen in the game with 19 seconds left). The crunchtime lineup was Rose/Johnson/LeBron/Bosh/Stoudemire. Otherwise known as the “five guys Doc wouldn’t mind seeing in a painful five-man collision resulting in multiple ACL tears.”
– KG was the only guy who didn’t play at least 10 minutes in the game (he played 7:32).
– Blake Griffin won that dunk contest before it started (and threw down his best dunk of the night in the first round with that reverse-360 two-hander, in my opinion), but my favorite dunk of the night was DeMar DeRozen’s “Show Stopper.”
– Lost in the Kobe/LeBron/Durant alpha-dog triangle was Manu Ginobili, the most creative player in the NBA today. His stats weren’t that great (2-for-7, 7 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast, 3 stl, 2 TO), but he definitely took the mantle from Nash/Kidd as the most fun All-Star teammate.
– Besides both being big guys who can pass, LeBron James doesn’t really do many things like Magic Johnson. But their closest similarity is when it comes to the ease both players can go coast-to-coast. As a kid I would often wonder why Magic didn’t go coast-to-coast and score every play, since whenever the Lakers needed a bucket that’s exactly what he’d do. That was how LeBron looked last night.
– The two most awkward moments of the night, both featuring Kobe:
1. Craig Sager sitting by the West bench, attempting to ask Melo if he had indeed recently met with the Knicks and Nets (duh), with Kobe stepping in and refusing to let Sager get a word in edgewise. The weirdest part: Kobe calling himself Anthony’s “big brother.” Anthony was happy not to have to talk to Sager (who isn’t, really), but it’s hard to imagine Melo wanting anyone to claim big brother status over him — especially the guy who was trying to claim big brother status over the entire NBA all evening long. And that, even more so than the Lakers’ size advantage they’d be relinquishing if they trade Andrew Bynum to the Nuggets, is why Melo will never be traded to Kobe’s team.
2. After the game, the camera followed Kobe along as he shook hands and chatted with a few members of the East. That included Dwight Howard, who muttered something that took Kobe aback, even covering his mouth with his fist at one point. By the look on Kobe’s face afterward and how tense he looked when he responded to whatever Howard said, I doubt Dwight said, “Great game, you deserve to be MVP.” More like, “Great cherry-picking, but you’re just lucky you got Durant on your squad, old man.”
– Thanks to Marv Albert bringing up a story I somehow totally missed, the time when Melo said he takes his hat off to himself for how well he’s dealing with all this “stuff.” Melo also said, “I really don’t think an average man can walk in my shoes. I don’t think that.” You’re right, Mr. LaLa. An average man can’t walk in the shoes of a guy who’s holding a team hostage, a team that committed the cardinal sin of offering him $65 million over 3 years.