We head into the All-Star break with a transcendent star playing at an all-time level, a few young teams hungry to challenge the Heat’s throne, and an old stand-by, the San Antonio Spurs, with the best record in the NBA by three games. If you think this season looks a lot like last year, you are right – but at the same time, there are a few enormous differences.
#1 – Lebron James is on another stratosphere. No one on Earth is even close to him right now. Not Kevin Durant. Not Kobe Bryant. No one. If he continues to play this well and this efficiently, the Heat win the NBA title, and may not need to play more than 21-22 playoff games to do so.
#2 – The Thunder aren’t quite as good a matchup for Miami this year. I don’t think the Harden trade was a “bad trade.” But it does leave OKC vulnerable against Miami’s small lineup defensively. They really need to look at moving Durant to the 4 against Miami, but that puts a ton of pressure on Sefolosha to contribute offensively and Ibaka/Perkins to DOMINATE the glass.
#3 – The Spurs really aren’t an “old” team and Timmy Duncan is as healthy as he’s been in five years. They rely heavily on emerging players Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and Tony Parker is a Top 5 MVP candidate. I’m not discounting their chances to win the West just because they had an anemic week against OKC last year.
Before the stretch run of the season commences, the league’s best will face off in an offensive bonanza in Houston. It’s not an easy game to handicap, because of the whole “no one guard anyone” thing – but let’s take a look at some of the matchups and try to get an edge.
Eastern Conference All-Stars at Western Conference All-Stars -3 (Total: 294.5)
The East brings the obvious advantage of Lebron James being on the floor, as well as him being in the starting lineup with two familiar teammates, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. That should give them slightly more rhythm on the court than normal All-Star games. But let’s not kid ourselves – no one is running any offensive sets tonight. It’s a high-flying, one-on-one game and it tends to favor isolation specialists. Each team has a few of those; for the East it’s Carmelo Anthony, who tends to excel in these games and also has a really good rapport and respect level from other All-Stars from his leadership in International and Olympic play.
However, if I have to have someone isolate and perform offensively, who better than the present and the future of skill; Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Both are assassins, both have been All-Star Game MVP’s, and I like one of them to repeat the feat tonight. They’ll both get points. Kobe might need to go more volume to do so, Durant likely with better efficiency. At the end of the day, the home team usually wins, and unless there is a home-town hero (none this year, Harden doesn’t count) or a retiring superstar (sorry Kobe, elder statesman status doesn’t get you the MJ/Magic farewell slobbering until its actually your LAST year), it’s more of a free-for-all. The winner is generally the home team.
Give me the West at home in a game likely to approach 300 points scored total.
Free Pick: Western Conference All-Stars -3