As the NBA gathers to celebrate its undeniable collection of some of the world’s most skilled athletes, three superstars most often compared to iconic six-time champion Michael Jordan will battle it out for MVP honors.
Miami’s LeBron James leads the Eastern Conference against a West squad with Laker Kobe Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant at the helm in the 62nd NBA All-Star Game at the Toyota Center in Houston on Sunday night.
In the midst of huge media blitz, Jordan is celebrating his 50th birthday, and has long been the benchmark for current NBA players.
The reigning league MVP, James and the Heat rest atop the East and are favorites to capture a second consecutive championship. Capable of playing all five positions at any time, James tops Miami in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. Heat guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh will join James on the East side. Jordan said earlier this week that he would pick Bryant over James, pointing to the large discrepancy in championship rings.
At 34 years old and making his 15th All-Star appearance, Bryant was the first of the trio juxtaposed Jordan, and earlier this season joined him in the exclusive 30,000 career points club. But the Lakers have tumbled to 10th in the West and are in danger of missing the playoffs, which leaves the conference wide open for Durant and Oklahoma City.
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Firing off 29.2 points per game, the league’s leading scorer in Durant is a player many feel could surpass both Bryant and Jordan on the all-time scoring list. The 6-foot-10 forward is averaging a career-high 52 percent from the field, well in line for his fourth straight scoring title, and has the second-place Thunder on the verge of a repeat trip to the Finals. The last player to win three scorings titles consecutively was Jordan.
Bryant and Durant start alongside Clippers Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and Laker center Dwight Howard. The supposed rift between Howard and Bryant may be one of the reasons the Lakers are struggling this year, and why the Clippers have wrangled the Pacific Division and are title contenders in perhaps the best season in franchise history.
Paul’s 16.6 points and 9.6 assists per game place the Clippers third in the West, and Griffin continues to flourish with his high-flying style, which is a perfect fit for an All-Star setting.
The East represents the new and old in the conference with six first-time All-Stars, and Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett who, like Bryant, appears for a 15th time. In what Garnett has alluded may be his last All-Star go-round before retirement, the 36-year-old fended off trade questions as Boston figures out if they can make one more playoff run featuring him and teammate Paul Pierce, who was voted in by coaches for his 10th All-Star game.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo was supposed to start Sunday, but his season was done three weeks ago when it was revealed he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Brooklyn Net center Brook Lopez was named as an injury replacement, but Bosh will start.
New York’s Carmelo Anthony is the final starter for the East, and has the resurgent Knicks primed to challenge Miami for the East crown.
Point guards Jrue Holiday of Philadelphia and Kyrie Irving from Cleveland will make their first trip to the NBA’s seminal event. Joining them are Chicago Bulls Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, Indiana Pacer Paul George, and Knick Tyson Chandler.
The West is not lacking new blood either. Houston's James Harden should rev up the home crowd in his first All-Star game, and forward David Lee will represent the surprising Golden State Warriors.
The game tips-off at 8 p.m. and will be shown by TNT, or you can watch their live online stream on TNT Overtime here. The entire roster for both clubs can be found below, with starters voted in by fans in bold.
Prediction: Last season, viewers could see Bryant calling out James for passing up on the final shot and the West won 152-149 with Durant picking up the MVP. That same result is possible, but James is too dominant this year. Anthony has a chance to steal the show with his quick strike scoring, and Griffin can easily get the crowd on his side with a few of his signature slams. The West has won three of the last four meetings, including two straight, but the young talent on the East should be the difference in a victory.
Predicted Score: East 142, West 135
G Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
G Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
F LeBron James, Miami Heat
F Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
C Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
G Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
G Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
F Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (Will Start In Place of Rondo)
F Paul George, Indiana Pacers
F Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
C Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
C Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
C Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets (Injury Replacement)
Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
G Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
G Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
C Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
G James Harden, Houston Rockets
G Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
G Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
F LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
F Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
F David Lee, Golden State Warriors
F Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs