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For Cleveland’s NBA All-Star Game, LeBron Picks a Powerhouse

February 20, 2022

CLEVELAND — Stephen Curry couldn’t do it. Giannis Antetokounmpo has failed at it twice. Now Kevin Durant gets his second shot.

None have been able to draft a team to beat one picked by LeBron James in the NBA All-Star Game. He is 4-0 in the format and might have assembled his most stacked team yet for the game Sunday night in his home state.

Curry, Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic will start along with James, putting four former NBA MVPs in one starting unit. DeMar DeRozan, who might be having his finest season yet in his first year in Chicago, rounds out the starting five.

It’s hard to compete with that, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

“Well, we’re all All-Stars here,” Team Durant’s Draymond Green said. “So I think we stack up just fine and I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes, but I think we’ll be just fine.”

The NBA did away with the traditional East vs. West format after the 2017 All-Star Game, when the West’s 192-182 victory was so devoid of effort that the players and league realized something had to be done to raise the stakes. So the leading vote-getter in each conference becomes the captain to choose his side and the teams play to win money for charity.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen in 2018 and scored victories over Team Giannis in 2019 and 2020. Last year’s victory in Atlanta was over Team Durant, the same matchup as this season.

James also drafted Luka Doncic and Chris Paul. Miami and Team Durant coach Erik Spoelstra hoped he would be able to coach James and Jimmy Butler, his former and current Heat stars. Instead, he’ll be going against both.

“So we’re going to throw the kitchen sink at them,” Spoelstra quipped. “Box-and-1, triangle-and-2, full-court press and some things that I probably can’t even think of right now.”

Durant is still out with sprained knee ligament, replaced in his starting lineup by Boston’s Jayson Tatum. NBA scoring leader Joel Embiid, Atlanta’s Trae Young and first-time All-Stars Ja Morant of Memphis and Andrew Wiggins of Golden State are the other starters.

James will be making his 18th consecutive All-Star Game start, extending his own record. He said he tries not to overdo it with how much and how hard he plays in the exhibition, but also wants to give fans a good show.

“I’ve been a part of quite a few of these games, so definitely want to be smart about my minutes and things that I play,” James said. “It’s the only time and only game throughout the season where I’m OK talking about my minutes.”

Some other things to know about Sunday’s All-Star Game:

INJURIES

Green joins former Golden State teammate Durant on the sideline because of his back injury. James Harden is out for Team LeBron because of a hamstring injury, while Utah’s Donovan Mitchell missed practice Saturday because of an illness not related to COVID-19.

Chris Paul isn’t sure if he can go for Team LeBron, with his right hand wrapped in a cast after he was hurt Wednesday in Phoenix’s victory over Houston.

“I’m going to see, even if it’s just to get out there and maybe throw a couple assists,” said Paul, the All-Star Game’s career leader in that category. “As long as I pass it to somebody, somebody will make it.”

CELEBRATING 75

The NBA will honor members of its 75th anniversary team during a halftime ceremony. The league celebrated its 50th anniversary team when Cleveland last hosted the game in 1997.

GIANNIS THE GREAT

Antetokounmpo has blown past Durant and James as the All-Star Game’s leader in scoring average. He is at 28.8 points per game in his five appearances after scoring 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting while winning MVP honors in 2021.

YOUNG GUNS AND OLDER GUYS

Besides Morant and Wiggins, the All-Star Game will feature five other first-timers: Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland of Cleveland, LaMelo Ball of Charlotte, Fred VanVleet of Toronto and Dejounte Murray of San Antonio. On other end, Durant and Paul were selected for a 12th time, a mixture that had Curry saying the competition in the league might be better than ever.

“It’s probably at an all-time high in terms of some of the young guys who are stepping into All-Star-level basketball,” the two-time MVP said. “You’ve got a lot of first-timers here who are so deserving of the honor. They’ve made huge leaps. But then you’ve also got like myself, Bron, CP, guys that have been around for a long time that are trying to still do it.”

THE KOBE TROPHY

The winner of the MVP award receives the Kobe Bryant Trophy, which was named in the longtime Laker star’s honor after he died just before the 2020 All-Star Game. A new trophy debuts this year with an eight-sided base covered by 18 stars, representing Bryant’s total of All-Star selections. He was the MVP a record-tying four times.

 

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