From Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, the NBA held its midseason contest between the best in the Eastern Conference and the best in the Western Conference. Fans and coaches voted for the best and most popular NBA players from the 2016-17 season to participate in a number of contests, the grand offering being the All-Star game.
One of the main headlines during All-Star weekend was the famed dunk contest. After many years of criticism over the decline and lack of appeal in the dunk contest, Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic put on a captivating display last season that resurrected the event and made it one of the most anticipated contests of this year’s All-Star weekend. LaVine chose to sit out this year’s event, leaving Gordon as the de facto fan favorite.
Surprisingly, Gordon’s parade was trumped by two unknowns that created intrigue in the contest. Glenn Robinson III and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Indiana Pacers and the Phoenix Suns, respectively, would take part in the contest with barely any NBA experience. There was also Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan who leads the league in dunks and created intrigue due to his towering frame.
Despite the lead-up, this year’s dunk contest was, as Ananth Pandian writes for CBS Sports, “pretty, pretty, pretty bad.” Gordon was ousted in the first round after recording more attempts than actual dunks. This included an attempt to alley-oop a basketball from an overhead drone, with Gordon just barely throwing it down on his third try. Jordan also faced elimination in the first round, leaving the final round to the two newcomers.
Failed attempts and low scoring dunks drained the interest from the final round. Although Jones had arguably the best dunk of the night, it was ultimately not enough to win the contest. Robinson came away with the trophy thanks to measly competition.
Another highlight event that brought up headlines was the 3-point shooting contest. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shocked the association when he declined to take part, but there was plenty of shooting talent elsewhere around the league. Defending 3-point champ Klay Thompson came back to defend his crown against a field that featured eight of the top 22 shooters in the league.
Despite being heavily favored to repeat, Thompson was ousted in the first round. By the final round, only Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets remained. Gordon came out on top after both players battled for supremacy in overtime.
As for the All-Star game, the Western Conference scored at will in a 192-182 victory. With New Orleans being the host city, the Pelicans’ best player Anthony Davis was relied upon heavily to represent for the home crowd, to which he easily delivered. Davis benefitted from a Western Conference team that seemed determined to help pad his stat line, finishing with an All-Star game record 52 points and 10 rebounds. Davis would go on to raise the Most Valuable Player award after clocking in more than 30 minutes of play time. Davis was able to send New Orleans fans home happy.
One of the many headlines heading into All-Star weekend was the interaction, or lack thereof, between teammates-turned-rivals Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.After Durant left Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder during the offseason to join the two-time Western Conference champion Warriors, the two have not been on speaking terms. Westbrook has been vocal in his criticism of Durant for giving up on the city that had championed him for so long. During their teams’ three meetings during the regular season, Westbrook has been defiant in his lack of forgiveness, their latest meeting ending with a cheeky exchange between the two during post-game handshakes.
Come game time, many were interested in seeing just how Western Conference coach Steve Kerr, also coach of the Warriors, would manage his roster and how he might place Durant and Westbrook on the floor. Shockingly, Durant and Westbrook connected for an alley-oop, sending the crowd into pandemonium. Minutes later, the bench players poked fun at the pair for their touching display on the court.
For players and fans equally, the NBA All-Star game is a time to enjoy the sport of basketball in its essence, without any of the competition involved. Many gather to celebrate the skill and camaraderie from around the league before heading into the second half of the season. With the trade deadline now past, many teams are gauging their talent in hopes of making a significant run at the postseason. This year’s playoffs are shaping up to feature many of the familiar faces in the Warriors and Cavaliers, but with the twist of many hopefuls in the Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings not too far out. Still, there is plenty of basketball left to be played and the ever-changing landscape of the NBA can see many shakeups in the standings by the time the playoffs come around.