All-Star Weekend predictions
The stars are all in Houston. Who will shine the brightest in the All-Star Weekend events? Our 5-on-5 crew makes its selections.
1. Who will win the Rising Stars Challenge?
2013 NBA All-Star Game
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Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Team Shaq, though I'm still mourning the absence of Andre Drummond on the team. While Team Chuck has a clear division of labor going on with his roster, Team Shaq is fluid, with most players being able to fill several roles and positions. Not to mention the ultimate trump card Kyrie Irving, who had 34 points in last year's outing.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Team Shaq, by a landslide. [Charles] Barkley might believe that active big guys like Kenneth Faried win these kinds of games, but I'll take dominant ball handlers who can score every time, and Shaq has Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker. Plus, Shaq has the shooting of Klay Thompson, who, if guarded lazily, can go for 50 in a game like this.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue & Gold: Team Chuck in an upset. Shaq has the big-name guards in Irving and Lilliard, but his roster is full of players who thrive creating shots for themselves. I'd rather have Chuck's mix of distributors like [Ricky] Rubio and [Alexey] Shved and finishers like Davis, Faried, [Kawhi] Leonard and [Bradley] Beal. That balance will end up being the difference.
Tom Sunnergren, Hoop76: Team Chuck. Though Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, Kemba Walker and Co. give Team Shaq a bit more TV-ready verve than their counterparts, the Chucksters look mighty good. As in: a balanced, ruthlessly efficient juggernaut that can beat you however the mood strikes it. If Team Shaq is a Maserati, Team Chuck is a tank. And the Maserati will miss Andre Drummond.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Team Shaq. If Andre Drummond wasn't a late scratch due to a back injury, this would be a rout. As it is, though, Shaq's team is still superior in a setting like this. Why Chuck chose Anthony Davis over Kyrie Irving -- last year's MVP -- with his first pick is anyone's guess, but from there his team was doomed to defeat.
2. Who will win the Skills Challenge?
Chau: Damian Lillard, if only because the obstacle course bears some resemblance to a predraft workout. As a rookie lauded for his incredibly intense workouts, perhaps he'll find a groove earlier than his fellow point guards. But most contestants have been notoriously lax in the competition, so really, your guess is as good as mine.
Gutierrez: This is literally a case of who wants it more. As in, if you want it at all, you'll get it. And in this case, I'll go with Lillard. If he hasn't shown how skilled he is already, he'll put on a show in one of his few national appearances.
Soriano: Damian Lillard. The rookie has the right combination of speed, passing and shooting ability to win this event. I particularly think Lillard's shooting ability will be key, as it's often the top-of-the-key jumper that determines who wins. Of all the contestants, Lillard has the smoothest stroke, and that will prove to be the difference.
Sunnergren: Tony Parker. The Spurs' catalyst won the 2012 Taco Bell Skills Competition over the likes of Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. With a significantly weaker field this time around, I smell a repeat.
Winter: Damian Lillard. The rookie boasts a combination of shooting and passing ability at least as good as anyone else in the field, and seems like the type to take any competition seriously. He'll get by Tony Parker in the first round and meet Jrue Holiday in the final, where his superior jumper will seal a victory.
3. Who will win the 3-point shootout?
Chau: Steph Curry, though history is not on his side: A point guard hasn't won the contest since 1997, and that's only if you consider Steve Kerr a point guard. If anyone can reclaim the trophy for the position, however, it's Curry, who will surely go down as one of the best shooters ever.
Gutierrez: Ryan Anderson. I am going against every instinct in my body by not picking Steph Curry, who's the most entertaining 3-point shooter in the game today. But I'm going with the guy who makes it look effortless, which is critical when you're taking so many shots.
Soriano: Steph Curry. I was leaning heavily towards Steve Novak and his quick release, but I find it impossible to go against Curry after he tweeted out this video of him effortlessly drilling shot after shot while practicing. Plus, beyond the smooth stroke, Curry also has the motivation of not making the Sunday game to drive him toward the win.
Sunnergren: Steph Curry. If you split the NBA into two groups, guys who shoot a lot of 3-pointers and guys who shoot them efficiently, Steph Curry would occupy the Venn diagram's bull's-eye -- which is, incidentally, where most of his 3-pointers end up. He's the best of a deep field.
Winter: Steph Curry. He's the league's most accurate and prolific bomber, has an effortless stroke perfect for this event and will be out for blood after being overlooked by the coaches for a reserve spot in the Weekend's main course. All of that makes for a potentially dominant performance from Curry.
4. Who will win the slam dunk contest?
Chau: James White. The dunking legend has been preparing for this moment his entire life. He's spent time abroad rounding out his game, but his gift, curse, and claim to fame will always be the ability to fly. Now he gets to do what he does for the world to see. This is wish fulfillment a decade in the making.
Gutierrez: Terrence Ross. He said recently that not many people know what he's capable of. They will after this. Toronto already experienced Vinsanity. Not sure what we'll end up calling this (Ross-surdity?), but if he works on the creativity factor, Ross will be a dunk-face phenom.
Soriano: James "Flight" White. Even with the hype creating what could be an unreachable standard, White will prove why he's the favorite going into the competition. With his array of foul line dunks and a crowd-pleasing act, I just can't see White not walking away with the trophy.
Sunnergren: James White is a specialist. His skill set is narrow and deep. If the NBA were an ant colony -- this is, very possibly, a popular analogy with ownership -- he would be the bug tasked with scooping crumbs of discarded corn bread from the grass of a nearby park, then leaping from the foul line like a character in a video game before tomahawking the morsel through the pinhole in the top of the anthill for the rest of the colony to enjoy. James White just dunks.
Winter: James White. There are many worthy candidates here, most notably Gerald Green, White's Eastern Conference teammate. The format robs us of a battle between them in the finals, but Eric Bledsoe -- the lone little man -- should nonetheless prove a stiff test. This contest, though, has never seen anything like Flight White's arsenal of soaring slams from the free throw line.
5. Who will win the All-Star Game?
Chau: West All-Stars, especially if experience matters at all. Nearly half of the East's roster will be playing in their very first All-Star Game. While East players like Paul George and Jrue Holiday will be acting like they've been there before, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan will be there, just as they have been for the past 14-15 years.
Gutierrez: East All-Stars. Honestly, it's hard to pick against Kevin Durant and the West, because Durant can win MVP of this game while drowsy. But something tells me LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, in particular, want to put on a show. You can book 30 points on 60 percent shooting or better from LeBron. You know, just to stay consistent.
Soriano: West All-Stars. LeBron may be the game's best player, but the rest of the East roster is full of first-time participants and players who are more grit-and-grind than grand-stage showmen. Meanwhile the West has Durant, Paul, Kobe and a slew of other players whose games were made for this. I'll take the latter, thanks.
Sunnergren: West All-Stars. While LeBron is still the best player in the sport and Carmelo Anthony tends to perform about 37 percent better in exhibition games, for me, the real point is this: the point. In the controlled chaos that is the NBA All-Star Game, you need a savvy distributor to direct traffic and keep order. The West has Chris Paul. The East doesn't.
Winter: East All-Stars. The West's roster boasts more talent from top to bottom, but this game's frenetic, high-wire act yields an advantage to the side that can best spread the floor. That's the East, with Carmelo Anthony starting at power forward. Should the score be close in the fourth quarter, it will be fascinating to see how coaches [Erik] Spoelstra and [Gregg] Popovich mix and match lineups.
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