By Tom Minear
All Star Weekend has come and gone again, this time after an epic three days in Las Vegas. I was on the spot to cover it all – well actually, I watched the action evolve live on my couch back in Australia . Nevertheless, it was an awesome weekend, and here’s what caught my eye from Vegas.
Rookie error and some Sophomore terror
This game was an absolute blow out. The Sophomores were on a record offensive tear, posting some pretty crazy numbers across the board including 74.7% from the field. I mean, there is playing defence on All Star Weekend, and then there is playing defence like the Rookies.
But I did actually find this game interesting. If Chris Paul hadn’t played, I would have been fast asleep within five minutes of the first half – and that would have been quite an effort, considering that I was watching the game live in Australia, at 1.00pm in 40oC heat.
CP3 really did tear it up, and it made me question why he did not get a run in the real thing. He came off the bench, played only 25 minutes and nearly had a triple-double. 16 points, 17 dimes and 9 thefts – count them, nine!
Go into the numbers further. The New Orleans point guard dropped 11 dimes in the first half, with seven steals, and he didn’t even score. So after the break, he came out and decided that he wanted a shot at the MVP award – 16 points on 7-10 shooting with a beautiful trey (a sign of the remarkable improvement in his long-range jumper) and a nasty alley-oop jam courtesy of Raymond Felton.
The guy has some serious hops. He’s barely six foot, yet can climb way above the rim when he wants to. Remember when Paul threw one down on Dwight Howard? He called for that trademark high-ball screen, split two defenders and absolutely posterized his Team USA team-mate, the 6’10” beast that we call “Man-Child.”
It’s probably my favourite play from the year so far.
Back to the Rookie game, where the undoubted highlight was the constant CP3 to Monta Ellis alley-oops. They formed one of the most exciting backcourt tandems I have seen in a long time, establishing a repeatable yet amazing routine, just like Jay Leno.
According to Sam Rubenstein on Slamonline.com, “Chris Paul to Monta Ellis might be the best backcourt in the history of basketball.” You get the picture – these guys were absolutely stone-cold ballin’ in Vegas.
I was trying to keep count of the number of times Paul set up the highflying Ellis for a jam on the break, but it really did become too hard. At one stage in the first half, CP3 jumped into the passing lane, stole the ball and left it for Monta to slam home four times in a row. I’m not kidding.
Seriously, if they did that in training I would have been mightily impressed.
As much as I love CP3, Monta’s leap is even better. The Warriors have an excitement machine on their hands – he is 6’3” and was throwing down 180s and tomahawks like he was playing pickup back in Jackson, Mississippi.
Of course, there was more to the game than just Chris Paul and Monta Ellis. David Lee was excellent, finishing with 30 points, 11 boards, 4 dimes and 2 swats, without missing a single shot (14-14 from the field). Oh, and did I mention that he snared the MVP trophy from CP3?
This game was a great message to Isaiah Thomas. See what happens when he starts? Despite the fact that Lee is officially the most popular Knicks player, and all of New York wants him starting, he remains the team’s sixth man.
He has the league’s worst starter ahead of him, with Jerome James barely seeing a minute of court time each night despite his role in the starting line up. Lee could be the dominant force to push New York to greater heights, he could be leading the L in rebounds. But no, Isaiah keeps him benched.
So let’s free David Lee (note to the guys at FreeDarko.com – let’s get this campaign started!)
Some other random observations from the night:
- Andrew Bynum is massive. Really, really massive. Give him a few years and the Lakers will have one of the top pivots in the world.
- Deron Williams is all class. His shooting is excellent (3-4 from downtown in the game) and I always knew that, but I really hadn’t realised how good his creative ability as floor leader is. Big things are in the pipeline for this Jazz guard.
- This is definitely not a great Rookie class. Everyone was telling me this, but I didn’t listen – I guess now I am. Brandon Roy and Randy Foye are going to be very good guards in this league, no doubt about that. Adam Morrison will be a solid scorer for the Bobcats. Rudy Gay could be anything, and Andrea Bargnani is forming a very dangerous combination with Chris Bosh. But there is not a lot else there. Look for the Rookies to bring the Sophomore winning streak to an end next year, when Greg Oden and Kevin Durant come to town.
So that’s it for the Rookie Challenge. Wait, I forgot to give you the score. 155-114.
It was a blow out alright.
Saturday Night’s Alright
I’ll admit that I wasn’t overly impressed with All Star Saturday. The Skills Competition was predictably boring, with LeBron jogging slower than he would after completing a Mike Brown training session.
The Shooting Stars concept was even worse, especially when the TNT commentary team tried to make us feel that Chicago’s loss was controversial. Come on. Controversy is when Michael Finley shoots up a potential game winner on the buzzer, misses and the obvious Dirk Nowitzki foul is not called giving Dallas the win. Sorry, I’m still bitter about that call.
But again, Slamonline.com had some words of brilliance to spice up the evening.
Courtesy of Russ Bengston – “Bill Laimbeer shoots the straightaway three for Detroit. He looks like a senator or something. Very grey, distinguished and non-athletic looking. Not that he ever looked particularly athletic.”
My sentiments exactly.
The most painful part of the night was watching Michael Cooper taking 16 attempts to hit the three for Los Angeles. The guy has five championship rings, and yet the NBA has him jacking up three-balls on national TV, and none of them looked like going down. Where’s the respect?
Oh, and the clock malfunctioned, which not only meant I had to wait longer for the Dunk Competition, but ESPN got to throw in five more ads about their soccer coverage. How many times do I have to yell at the TV before ESPN understands that I simply don’t care about the FA Cup?
Next was the Three Point Contest. Hibachi looked ready to go, but I was hoping for Damon Jones to take home the title. The guy says he is the best shooter in the world, and he hasn’t even done anything. Imagine what he would have come out with if he won . . .
But Damon bombed out, as did Jason Terry and Mike Miller. By the way, someone should get Damon and Mike together for a coffee one day. Maybe then the Grizzlies sharpshooter would get that shocking excuse for a headband out of his life.
So it was down to three. Reigning champion Dirk Nowitzki, Agent Zero (who kept acting like his hands were burning – we get Gil, we get it), and Jason Kapono.
Wait, Jason who?
Yeah, I know. But the guy is shooting 56% from downtown this year. That’s amazing, crazy. No one can shoot that well. 89-159 on the season.
But Jason Kapono is for real, and he proved it in the final. The ex-UCLA star tied the final-round record, making 19 of 25 shots on his way to 24 points.
Dirk never threatened him, scoring only nine. Gilbert’s Hibachi must have been out of batteries – he made 17, but shot the last rack with one hand. DeShawn Stevenson must be wondering when he can stop reliving that $20,000 bet.
So Kapono took him the trophy, after an exceptional performance. He was lucky that public speaking wasn’t part of the scoring system though.
Finally, the Dunk Competition was on. Gerald Green, Nate Robinson, Dwight Howard and Tyrus ‘Show Me the Money’ Thomas. Vince (I won’t call him ‘Wince’ because I’m not from Canada) Carter and Kobe Bryant were on the judging panel, but should have been on the floor. Maybe next year we will see a real competition.
Before I continue, where the hell was James White? I knew the kid could dunk, but then I saw this video of White on The Nugg Doctor and fell off my chair. Go watch it now, because James White can fly. He is definitely one of the best dunkers I have seen in my lifetime – I think we need to start a campaign to get him to the Dunk Competition next year.
Don’t believe me? Well, when was the last time you saw a guy throw it down from the free throw line, and go through the legs in flight?
Anyways, back to the competition. Tyrus never looked a chance, despite a nice throwdown over Ben Gordon. A lesson learned for the Chicago rookie, but I’m sure his high school would have liked him to have pulled in some more cash.
Dwight Howard had dunk of the night. The Sticker Dunk (if only he was allowed to throw one down on a 12-foot rim, that would have been a sight to behold). But no 50 – something was up. Nate Robinson made his Statue of Liberty jam with the help of David Lee, and got a higher score.
Bias for the little man again. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nate’s work. But there has to be a point where his dunks are put in perspective, because there is no way that the Sticker Dunk was worse than Nate’s.
Gerald Green, my pick to win the whole thing, came through with the goods. I love the showmanship of the guy – he had the pumps going, the Dee Brown throwback and even a cardboard cut out of last year’s champion. But Nate Robinson stepped in, and stood in fear as his main rival jumped straight over his head and threw one down with authority.
The Celtics guard finished things with ease, with a windmill after jumping over a table. Overall, it wasn’t a great contest. Sure, the dunks were good, but I think the NBA needs to look at bringing Vince, J-Rich, Kobe and LeBron together if they want to create some history in the Dunk Competition.
Or they could call James White. Whatever.
The Real Deal
Well, I missed the All Star game.
It was on at 12.30pm on Monday down under, so of course I was stuck in classes. I’ll be sure to watch it in the next few days, but from the highlights I saw, it was another dunk fest.
Kobe looked like the deserved MVP winner. 31-6-5 with 6 steals and three treys would have made for some beautiful viewing. His nifty 180 reverse and his baseline reverse slam were both amazing plays, giving further merit to asking him back to the Dunk Competition.
Amare Stoudemire was on fire as well. He had 29-9-3 with two blocks in 21 minutes, but most importantly was Standing Tall And Talented like he did when he torched the Spurs in the 2005 Western Conference Finals. Not only did he have the signature power dunks, but showcased his vision and passing with a sweet hand off to Carmelo Anthony for the dunk. His range also looked good, and perhaps those off-season rumours of Amare adding a three-point shot to his game have more truth in them than I thought.
Carmelo looked menacing all night (hate to say I told you so, but . . .) to finish with 20 on 10-14 shooting. Tony Parker was another to impress for the West, running the point to perfection. He finished with 10 dimes off the bench, and although he didn’t make up for the absence of The Answer, Parker set up some menacing alley oop plays. Plus, his wife-to-be Eva Longoria was in the crowd – it was a win-win situation for us all.
The East was predictably outgunned. LeBron was huge in his push for back-to-back All Star MVP trophies, with 28-6-6 and four long threes. He didn’t get a lot of help though, with Gilbert still searching for some batteries for his Hibachi and Wade having a quiet night. You know the Miami star is off when Kevin Garnett puts his lay-ups into the fifth row.
Dwight Howard was a beast for the second night running, with 20 points. His dunks were so damn powerful that I was just waiting for him to smash the glass, Shaq-style. And on the subject of The Diesel, anyone else see him running the point? It was priceless, as the big man crossed over Mehmet Okur and then pulled up for the J.
Straight out of Dwyane Wade’s textbook. Except he missed the shot.
So that was All Star Weekend. From all reports, Vegas was jumping, and the basketball was pretty good too.
Next year, New Orleans has the annual weekend of madness and mayhem. But we still have half a season left before that. I pulled out my magic crystal ball, and decided that we will see all of this before the next All Star Weekend.
- The Hornets will make the playoffs.
- LeBron is going to go ballistic, leading Cleveland to the Eastern Conference Finals and giving himself a shot at MVP.
- Dirk will win the MVP award even though Nash has been better that his previous two years. It’s just a conspiracy – no one wants him in the same class as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.
- Nash will get his revenge, leading the Suns to a 61-win season and then a Championship win over Miami.
- Dallas will win like 70 games or something crazy like that, and then lose in the Western Conference Finals. Maybe this will shut Mark Cuban up.
- David Lee won’t start in New York until Isaiah realises that everyone hates him and that Jerome James should be playing in the NBL (that’s the Australian National League).
- Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and Andrei Kirilenko will get injured. It’s a certainty, right?
- Josh Smith will finally get recognised as a superstar.
- Greg Oden will get drafted number one. The team with the number two pick will be the luckiest franchise in the history of basketball.
- Oh, and by the way, remember when I said that “if you thought last year was a breakout for Wallace, you were wrong. He is ready to produce something extra special”? You were all thinking that the stupid Australian had no idea, and that Crash would just get injured again as the Bobcats slipped back to the lottery. But check out what he did in February: 19.7ppg, 8.3rpg, 3.1apg, 2.3spg and 1.14bpg. Looks like I was right. Expect similarly freaky production the rest of the way.
That’s all out of the Mouth from the South.