The first miss of the 2018 All-Star game happened long before any of the players took the court for 48 minutes of long-range shooting, high-flying dunks and mimed “defense.”
Sunday at Staples Center, the NBA will unveil a change of format to the game, pitting two teams drafted by the leading vote-getters in each conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Cleveland’s LeBron James, against one another.
It’s a fun twist to a game that critics decry as too much of an exhibition, during which defense is ignored in favor of manufactured highlight plays.
The NBA and the players fired up a brick, though, by failing to televise the draft, instead holding it in secret because of a combination of factors. They didn’t want the last pick to be embarrassed. They didn’t want to put James or Curry in awkward positions when it comes to picking teammates.
If only the league and the players fully embraced the awkwardness, All-Star weekend could’ve had another exciting event.
Maybe during halftime of the Rising Stars game on Friday, maybe sometime between events on Saturday or, heck, maybe even after player introductions on Sunday, Curry and James could stand on the court and select their teams while everyone watches.
It’d be one of the best moments of the weekend. Instead, they did it behind closed doors.
Still, the change in format does help create the possibility of memorable moments. Here are four we’re hoping we’ll be able to see and a hint of one to possibly come:
1. Durant vs. the Warriors
One of the key intents of moving away from the traditional East-vs.-West concept had to have been situations exactly like this — Kevin Durant on one team with Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on the other. It’s almost like it’s 2016 again.
That’s when Durant’s Thunder lost to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, starting a chain of events that led to Durant joining the best team in the NBA.
Sunday, here’s to hoping Durant and Curry and Thompson trade three-point bombs before Green, one of the league’s best defensive players, steps in to try to lock down Durant.
2. Beard and the Buck
One of the best parts of the current NBA product is the variety in the styles of the game’s stars. On Team Curry, two of the funkiest, quirkiest, most unorthodox players in the NBA, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, get to team up.
Harden uses some of the NBA’s best footwork to create space and some of the league’s strongest hands to draw fouls (doubt we’ll see him take a lot of free throws Sunday). And Antetokounmpo owns the NBA’s best combination of skill, size, strength and potential.
In the old format they would’ve faced each other, but Sunday they’ll team up.
3. Twin towers
There was a time when some NBA pundits, mostly those who prefer an old-school approach to the game, lamented the lack of centers.
Sunday, Team Curry will have two centers who are among the most exciting young players in Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Both are wildly talented with skills way beyond traditional centers and hopefully they can end up on the court together as teammates.
4. MVP fight
The 2016-17 NBA most valuable player race was between Russell Westbrook and Harden for, essentially, the entirety of the season. Westbrook pulled away and won the award, and Sunday the two native Angelenos get to battle again.
They’re among the favorites for the game MVP, and without any players from the Lakers and Clippers in the game, they should have the crowd behind them.
Thanks to the draft, two of the faces of the league aren’t going to be teammates — they’ll be going up against one another with Westbrook on Team LeBron and Harden on Team Stephen.
One of the big themes of All-Star weekend in Los Angeles should be the lack of Los Angeles players involved. Kobe Bryant’s retired while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have been traded, leaving the Lakers and the Clippers without All-Stars.
But thanks to a trade deadline deal that helped the Lakers shed Jordan Clarkson’s and Larry Nance Jr.’s contracts from their payroll, the team is in position to be big players for a pair of top free agents this summer or next.
And Sunday, James and Paul George will team up for the first time in Los Angeles at Staples Center. If the Lakers get their way during free agency, it won’t be the last.