Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

5 things to watch for during NBA All-Star weekend (5 items)

By Mitch Kunzler

Feb. 14, 2014

With just over half of the 2013-2014 NBA season finished and in the record books, both NBA players and fans are ready for the annual break in regular season action known as NBA All-Star Weekend. In the past, the All-Star Weekend has been full of moments NBA fans will remember for ages. Michael Jordan's iconic slam dunk contest dual with Dominic Wilkins in 1988 has become one of the most memorable moments in history. In more recent memory, there was the game in 2001, when Allen Iverson lead the East from down 21 points in the fourth quarter, to defeat the West 111-110. Or even just last year, when Kobe Bryant and LeBron James went at it in the final minutes of the game. Overall, some of the greatest moments in NBA history occur during All-Star Weekend, and NBA fans hope for much of the same in 2014. The location certainly won't be disappointing, as the events will be held in exciting city of New Orleans, La. The NBA has gone through many changes recently, the largest of which is the recent retirement of commissioner David Stern. All-Star Weekend is also among the changes taking place in the league, as there are several new formats this year, making the weekend schedule jam-packed with excitement. Here are five things to watch for during the NBA All-Star Weekend:

1 of 5. Lillard will make history

Former Weber State point guard Damian Lillard will compete in five different events this weekend, the most in NBA history. Lillard has had a tremendous season thus far, and he has earned a reputation for being one of the more well-balanced players in the league. The reigning Rookie of the Year award-winner will have several chances to show off different aspects of his game, as well as the entire package as a whole.

Lillard will compete the Rising Stars Challenge, the Three-Point Contest, the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game.

Because Portland isn't a large market, Lillard hasn't gotten as much exposure playing for the Blazers as some of the other young players in the league. But with his packed schedule this weekend, he is sure to become more of a household name.

2 of 5. Paul George, new format make the Slam Dunk Contest far more interesting

In recent years, the superstars of the NBA that compete in the Slam Dunk contest are very few. Fans remember the times when players like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen and Julius Erving competed on a regular basis, and thirst for superstars to compete once again.

With Paul George competing in the contest this year, fans will finally get a taste of what they yearn for. George has recently emerged as a superstar in the league, and has wowed crowds with breathtaking dunks since entering the league. George, combined with fellow All-Stars Damian Lillard and John Wall, make for one of the most anticipated contests in quite some time.

The contest will be an interesting one this year, as it will be formatted different than ever before. Contestants will compete in their respective "East" and "West" conferences, and the first conference to win three matchups will have each member of the conference declared as a slam dunk champion.

The format has gotten both positive and negative feedback, but widely considered intriguing nevertheless. Fans will be able to vote for a "dunker of the night" through various social media platforms.

Without a doubt, there is sure to be some incredible slam dunks in the contest this year.

3 of 5. Fathers and sons, Mailman to participate in Shooting Stars

The Shooting Stars has always been a fun event in All-Star Weekend, and one that has a very fun feel to it. Contestants will be divided into four teams of three, two teams representing the East, and the other two to represent the West. Teams will shoot from four different shooting locations, each one increasing in difficulty. The locations are in numerical order, and the first team to accomplish the process first wins.

The rosters are quite fascinating, as two sets of father and son teams will compete against each other. Warriors guard Stephen Curry will compete alongside his father Del Curry, and Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. will be accompanied by his father Tim Hardaway Sr.

Hall of Famer and former Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone will also compete. He will be matched with Kevin Durant and WNBA player Skylar Diggins. This will be Malone's first competition on a national stage in quite some time, and it will be compelling to see if the Mailman can deliver again.

Other contestants include Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins, Swin Cash, Elena Delle Donne and Becky Hammon.

4 of 5. Jazz guard Trey Burke to be paired with Damian Lillard for Skills Challenge

The Skills Challenge has been an event that allows guards to showcase their talent in shooting, passing and dribbling. This year introduces a new format, where contestants will be matched up with another contestant to form four teams of two. The teams will in turn compete in two rounds of course full of certain challenge stations that will test different aspects of the player's game. Each team will have to compete the course in a relay-style format, which is timed. The team with the best times wins.

Of all the players competing in the Skills Challenge this year, the two with Utah ties are the two joining forces. Former Weber State guard Damian Lillard will join Utah Jazz guard Trey Burke to form one of the Western Conference squads. Because of their quickness, agility and skills shooting the ball, they are one of the more electrifying pairs in the competition.

Burke and Lillard will have a good chance at winning the competition, as Lillard is the defending champ and will certainly give Burke some worthwhile advice.

5 of 5. The center position is dead

Players, analysts and fans alike have all said the game of basketball is evolving. Many think that the few centers in the NBA are the last of a dying bread, and the All-Star game starting lineups indicate just that.

Like every year, the fans of the NBA vote for the players they think are the most deserving of All-Star game, and the players with the most votes are named as the starters for the game. Only this year, the fan votes came in and not one player at the center position had enough votes to be named a starter. Each team will start three forwards and two guards, but no centers.

The fans voted so the Western squad starters would be Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love. But since Bryant is injured and will not participate, it is likely that James Harden will start the game in his place. The Eastern squad will feature Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

There were three centers named to the All-Star reserves: Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert. While they will certainly get some of the playing time, the starters normally eat up the majority of the minutes.

The All-Star game will certainly be different without the usual dominating center, but with Durant and James matching up alongside the rest of the league's best players, there isn't a chance in the world that it will lack excitement.

For additional NBA news and updates, you can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.