An Eastern Conference team led by hometown hero Dwight Howard should come out victorious in what may be an entertaining 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando.
The signs point to an East victory. The conference has dominated the West in All-Star Game history 36-24 and has alternated wins with the West since 2006. The West prevailed last year, 148-143, behind Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's 37 points and 14 rebounds.
Howard was the leading All-Star Game vote-getter, garnering 1,600,390 million votes. (Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)
The East roster as a collective unit might be a little undersized compared to the West's, but it also presents more matchup problems for the West because the players on it, especially the starters, are more skilled and multifaceted. And it starts with the matchup of Orlando Magic center Howard against Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
Howard has the crowd on his side this year and has produced more in the paint than Bynum throughout his career. Granted, Bynum has suffered injuries in the past, but even when fully healthy, the seven-footer has only shown flashes of dominance under the rim. And, against Howard in particular, he hasn't been great either.
Chiacgo Bulls guard Derrick Rose for the East will go against Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul for the West. Rose has the advantage because he can elusively penetrate, score from almost anywhere on the floor (with the exception of three-pointers) and pass when he needs to in classic contortionist form. Paul can do the same as Rose, but he isn't as potent as a scorer. Rather, he is a passer first.
That may serve well for his Clippers teammate and forward Blake Griffin for the West, who will be sure to catch at least a lob or two from Paul for alley-oop dunks. But, with Miami Heat forward LeBron James for the East guarding him, Griffin might be running into the biggest brick wall of any player in that conference. Offensively, Griffin's only upside right now is his ability to get to the rim and slam it home, but James is quicker and can post, shoot, penetrate and dunk all in one.
New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony for the East will match up against Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant for the West. This matchup might be the stalemate of all matchups among starters. Both do the same things the other does, but what gives Anthony the nod is his post play, the last piece of the puzzle that would make Durant unstoppable.
The final matchup pits Bryant against Heat guard Dwayne Wade. Yes, Bryant is a four-time All-Star Game MVP, although Wade has an MVP award of his own. However, Bryant is older at 33 and his ability to get to the rim has slowed over recent years. He can still shoot, but Wade, who is in his prime, albeit at the tail end, can also shoot and at this point is deadlier getting to rim and finishing.
As for the benches, the West has four out of seven guys who are at least 6-foot-10, while the rest are all point guards 6-foot-3 and under. That could hurt the East, but Luol Deng, Roy Hibbert, Rajon Rondo and Andre Iguodala, whose Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in points allowed per game (87.5), will make up for what they lack in size with excellent defense.
Final score prediction: East 127, West 119.
MVP: Dwight Howard (East)