Long considered a playground clash of wills anyway, the NBA All-Star Game will fully embrace its inner schoolyard Sunday at Staples Center with its hand-picked teams captained by two alpha males of the league.
Whether the competitive nature of the showcase game changes, especially on defense, remains to be seen as the NBA’s best now dedicate themselves to either Team LeBron or Team Stephen — instead of conference.
The mystique that is LeBron James’ magic touch has already taken a hit as four members of his team have gone down with injuries. Two of those — DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) — have been lost for the season.
But this team was built with inside-out abilities and James, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis figure to be the nucleus it revolves around.
“It’s going to be good,” James told TNT shortly after the squads were selected. “Listen, I have a 7-foot guy playing a two-guard in Kevin Durant so we got a chance. We got a real good chance.”
Added to the intrigue of Team LeBron is the presence of Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics’ point guard who requested a trade out of Cleveland to get out from James’ shadow.
“I feel like it was a great choice,” Irving said with a smile on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this week.
It should come as no surprise that Steph Curry’s team can shoot and score at will. The counter to Team LeBron’s inside-out game is the shoot-off-the-dribble talents of Curry and James Harden, with Klay Thompson coming off the bench.
Combine that with the all-around game of Giannis Antetokounmpo, while the inside will be occupied by Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Al Horford. DeMar DeRozan will run the team from the point.
“I have a good (rapport) with DeMar and (Harden), playing on Team USA world championship teams with them,” Curry told TNT. “Joel will obviously be a future All-Star for plenty more years.”
Excuse Embiid if his energy level is low by the time the All-Star Game rolls around Sunday evening. His breakout weekend has been a busy one, even with a recent ankle injury, as he also had scheduled appearances in the Rising Stars game and the Skills Challenge.
“The last two days (the ankle) has been feeling better,” Embiid said at his All-Star weekend press conference on Friday. “But there was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events. It’s my first time, so I’m going to have fun.”
When the teams were selected, Team LeBron was considered the heavy favorite, and while the squad’s injuries have tempered that perceived advantage some, the expectation is that Team Stephen remains at a slight disadvantage.
The game does have more intrigue than just James vs. Curry, James reunited with Irving and the bigs of Team LeBron vs. the shooters of Team Stephen. There is also Russell Westbrook reunited with Durant on Team LeBron and Durant playing against his Golden State Warriors teammates of Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.
“It would’ve been cool to get everyone on the same team again, but we got four All-Stars,” Curry said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m looking forward to playing against (Durant) and see what Team LeBron is all about. It’ll be a cool experience.”
–Starters: DeMarcus Cousins, C, Pelicans (INJURED); Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans; Kevin Durant, F, Warriors; Kyrie Irving, G, Celtics; LeBron James, G/F, Cavaliers.
–Reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Spurs; Bradley Beal, G, Wizards; Goran Dragic, G, Heat; Andre Drummond, C, Pistons; Paul George, F, Thunder; Kevin Love, F/C, Cavaliers (INJURED); Victor Oladipo, G, Pacers; Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Knicks (INJURED); Kemba Walker, G, Hornets; John Wall, G, Wizards; Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder.
–Starters: Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks; Stephen Curry, G, Warriors; DeMar DeRozan, G, Raptors; Joel Embiid, C, 76ers; James Harden, G, Rockets.
–Reserves: Jimmy Butler, G, Timberwolves; Draymond Green, F, Warriors; Al Horford, F/C, Celtics; Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers; Kyle Lowry, G, Raptors; Klay Thompson, G, Warriors; Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Timberwolves.