With the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend almost here, SI.com's Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney dish their predictions for Saturday and Sunday night, including their Dunk and Three-Point Contest picks, All-Star MVP and more.
Golliver: Isaiah Thomas, Suns. The key to the selection here is the rules change, which requires competitors to hit a three-pointer to complete their round through the obstacle course and asks that the champion win three rounds in a row. Not only is Thomas a bundle of energy who can be counted on to push himself, he’s also a 39.1% shooter from deep this year, which I think will put him over the top.
Mahoney: Isaiah Thomas, Suns. Thomas has it all (speed, agility, handle, shooting ability), save the magic necessary to make this event interesting. Alas. But if we’re picking winners, Thomas gets bonus points for the fact that he won’t be participating in any of the weekend’s other events. I buy into the recent trend of Skills Challenge winners being non-All-Stars, as the game’s participants have little reason to run the course at anything approaching maximum speed. That Thomas seems like the kind of guy who might want to win this thing outright surely doesn’t hurt his chances.
Golliver: Klay Thompson, Warriors: Slow clap to the league office employees who booked this contest. I like Thompson because he’s a good spot-up shooter, he’s got a quick release, he’s not going to fold under pressure, and he’s got a competitive edge that could be the difference-maker in what should be an entertaining event. Plus, he hung 37 points in a quarter on Nik Stauskas, who defends about as well as one of the ball racks they use in the competition.
Mahoney: Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers. Admittedly, there are no logical grounds for choosing Matthews over Thompson, Stephen Curry, or Kyle Korver here. Call it a hunch. Matthews is a hyper-competitive sort who relishes having a chip on his shoulder. I think he’ll take competing against a group of higher-profile shooters and higher-profile stars seriously, which for such a skilled shooter could give an edge. Whether that’s enough to beat out the forementioned sharpshooters is another thing entirely, but I like Matthews’ potential to play spoiler.
Slam Dunk Contest
Golliver: Victor Oladipo, Magic: Admittedly, the only reason I’m not picking Zach LaVine is because he’s too obvious. That said, I like Oladipo’s power off the ground, his fluidity in the air, his wide smile, and his overall showmanship. Keep in mind: The Slam Dunk Contest will take place on Valentine’s Day and this is a guy whose singing abilities can bring tears to your eyes (in a good way). If anyone is going to pull off an outside-the-box, Valentines-themed show-stopper, it’s this guy.
Mahoney: Zach LaVine, Timberwolves. Ben may shrug off the obvious, but I’m going to side with the bouncy athlete whose sole purpose of being in the NBA at this point is to win this kind of contest. I’m expecting good things from Oladipo and Giannis Antetokounmpo here – just not quite enough to match LaVine’s bounce and the creativity it allows. So long as LaVine balances the simple (in terms of production) with some slight invention, this contest should be his.
All-Star Game Prediction
Golliver: West: 168, East 158. Last year’s game saw a record number of total points (318) and a record for the winning team (163). With Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer manning the sidelines, I fully expect a totally free-flowing, up-and-down, send-the-fans-home-happy type of game. I see the West’s talent advantage (Kerr’s second unit might be better, on paper, than Budenholzer’s starters) winning out in a wild one and setting a new record for points along the way. Too optimistic? Shouldn’t any team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and James Harden top at least 150?
Mahoney: West: 163, East: 157. I see plenty of reason to favor the West: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as superstars with something to prove; a crop of bigs (led by Anthony Davis) that seems better-suited for All-Star competition; the heat-check brigade in Curry, Thompson, James Harden, and Damian Lillard; and enough collective shooting to break this game open.
All-Star Game MVP
Golliver: Stephen Curry, Warriors. I suspect this will be a popular choice, given Curry’s MVP-type campaign, Kerr in place to give him plenty of minutes and touches, and the fact that Curry’s game (pull-up threes, outrageous dribbling displays, filthy passes) is a perfect fit for the exhibition format. I’m OK with going chalk on this one because a massive performance by Curry, who has done it before in Madison Square Garden, has the potential to be truly electrifying, which is when All-Star Weekend is at its best.
Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. Any of a number of superstars could apply here, but I like Harden’s capacity to completely dominate the box score in a way that voters can’t ignore. He could be the highest scorer in the game and/or the West’s leading assist man and/or a prominent rebounder and/or a thief in the passing lanes. Hit enough on all four and the award is his. It’s easier said than done, though with so many candidates I like Harden’s chances to win by doing a bit of everything.
Random All-Star Predictions
What will Russell Westbrook will be wearing Saturday night?
Golliver: The 10-day forecast expects Saturday’s temperature to check in at a chilly 25 degrees, so I’m expecting Westbrook to go with fur. For some reason I’m picturing him wearing a one-piece jumpsuit that morphs seamlessly into a polar bear pelt hooded sweatshirt. With custom Jordan XX9s to match, of course. Does this gold watch go with my paws?
Mahoney: A button-down, short-sleeved shirt made entirely of pastrami. A hat that is an actual, living rat, straight from the NYC underground. Cologne that smells like the city in the summertime.
Which Gasol brother will have the bigger game: Pau or Marc?
Golliver: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies. The bad news is that big men often have trouble standing out during the All-Star Game. The good news is that both Gasols are excellent passers, giving both of them the chance to set up lobs from the high post and draw oohs and aahs with no-look passes to backdoor cutters. I think Marc has the edge when it comes to opportunities (Pau has to compete for touches with four point guards and four members of Budenholzer’s Hawks) and high-flying teammates (Marc can turn to Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, and even Damian Lillard for above-the-rim finishes).
Mahoney: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies. Is it fair to say neither? The All-Star game is no country for big men, especially those who spend their time posting up as much as these two. If forced to choose between them, though, I’ll take Marc. Minutes may be tougher to hold in the West’s crowded frontcourt, but I’m expecting at least one of Marc’s trademark over-the-head, no-look passes to slice right through lax All-Star game defense.
Higher-scoring teammates: Steph/Klay or LeBron/Kyrie?
Golliver: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Warriors. The very best-case scenario for this All-Star Game is LeBron James deciding to totally take over and send a message to everyone who called him out for coasting through the first half of the season. James reclaiming supremacy would set the stage perfectly for what should be an excellent and wide open 2015 playoffs. Instead, I think the Splash Brothers use their natural advantage, playing for their own coach, to put up 55+ points combined. I do wonder how many minutes Kyrie Irving will see, too, as he wasn’t selected as a starter and must compete with Budenholzer’s own point guard, Jeff Teague, for minutes off the bench.
Mahoney: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Warriors. Minutes are a big factor here, and with Thompson a probable injury replacement in the West and Kerr as his All-Star coach, he seems destined to play more than Irving does. That’s a rough break for the reigning All-Star MVP, who also will be competing with John Wall, Kyle Lowry, and Jeff Teague for minutes while Thompson faces relatively thinner positional competition. The bottom line, though: We should know better than to doubt Curry and Thompson’s capacity to get buckets.
Who will be named the Celebrity Game MVP?
Golliver: Grizzlies owner Robert Pera. All I’m looking for here is someone who tries too hard and Pera is an elite competitor when it comes to that category. Look no further than his infamous shooting sleeve video or the time he tried to call out Michael Jordan and his players didn’t back him. I fully expect this guy to go all out to score 30 points and apply full-court pressure to someone like Mo’Ne Davis. Give him the trophy now.
Mahoney: Win Butler of Arcade Fire. The man can hoop and seems to fit the profile of a player who will actually use the Celebrity Game court as his proving ground. Size helps, too; Butler isn’t too far short of the former NBA players in this game, height-wise, giving him an – oh dear lord why am I writing this as if it matters in the slightest? My only real thought on the subject: Where have you gone, Arne Duncan?
Over/under All-Star Game: 318 points (total in 2014)
Golliver: Over. As I mentioned above, I’m heading into Sunday expecting points, points, points – especially because we just saw the Warriors and Hawks combine for 240 points in a hard-fought, regular season game last week. My only concern is that there are so many up-and-coming superstars angling for their shot at top-five status that there might be too many cooks in the kitchen. Hopefully that doesn’t happen and everyone plays nice, moving the ball at high speeds and draining threes in record numbers. For what it’s worth, last year’s game set a record with 30 combined threes and I think that mark is in serious jeopardy.
Mahoney: Over. This game is an engine for gunning and I don’t think the combined total has yet met its limit. Each passing year, too, seems to relax the defense further. There is a mutual agreement in place that neither team will put up any resistance at all save for the final six minutes or so. This year’s crop of stars should be able to take advantage to top even last year’s total.