NBA All-Star Weekend will provide another opportunity to mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant.
The late Lakers legend died alongside eight others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash that still doesn’t feel real. Although tributes at the beginning of games where teams intentionally took eight-second violations or burned off all 24 ticks on the shot clock have ended, getting everyone in the basketball world together for the annual weekend convention centered around the league’s best will undoubtedly inspire tributes.
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While many were hoping that the festivities in Chicago would spotlight Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and one of the NBA’s most impactful dynasties taking shape roughly 30 years ago, Bryant’s tragedy changes all of that. People’s emotions are likely to be raw so basketball fans will likely be treated to some sobering, emotional moments.
I recognize most aren’t personally affected by the game as much as I am, which means there will be plenty out there ready to tune in for what we’ve grown to anticipate from the weekend. To that end, I hope it doesn’t disappoint. We can all use a fun Saturday night where you can pick a shooter to back in the 3-point contest. Sunday, you’re either riding or fading Team LeBron in a contest where defense is frowned upon.
Last year’s total closed at 316 and was surpassed easily as Team LeBron routed Team Giannis 178-164. The year prior to that featured James’ squad edging Stephen Curry’s group 148-145 as he won MVP at Staples Center in his final season with the Cavs. Scoring has skyrocketed over the past 15 years. In 2006, there were 242 points scored on the heels of 240 the previous season. In 2016, the West beat the East 196-173. They won 192-182 in ‘17.
This year’s All-Star Game rule changes mean we won’t be able to accurately rely on past behavior to try and forecast this exhibition game. Scores will reset after every quarter. The combined score of the three quarters will be added to open the fourth and we’ll get a target score that will need to be reached to close out the contest. To honor Bryant, the team that has the lead will then need 24 points to win the game. If Team LeBron is up on Team Giannis 121-115 through the first three quarters, the game would end when either team arrives at 145 points.
My early estimate for this closing number is 272 but I am counting on seeing some variance out there. Considering the teams are likely to play more defense in this year’s contest due to the quarter tweak, my lean is to back the ‘under.’
The total moving 10-15 points to the north has been a trend that bettors have been able to count upon over the past few years, although the ’18 game did manage to cash for ‘under’ bettors.
Typically, you bet the ‘over’ as soon as numbers are released and rejoice at getting in early as the closing figure skyrockets as tip-off approaches. That’s unlikely to be a sound strategy this time around.
“They’re obviously trying to make it more competitive but in the first year of wagering with all the unknowns it’s going to hurt handle. If this is the way they come to do it from now on we’ll adjust and it sounds like it will improve the quality of the game,” said William Hill Director of Trading Nick Bogdanovich. “We’ll have lines up for the first three quarters that should get action and we’ll book the 3-point shootout and skills competition because they aren’t voted on like the slam dunk. Same goes for All-Star MVP until it gets approved.”
Bogdanovich mentioned that the Heisman Trophy is now available and other higher-profile awards may start getting cleared by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. But the demand for the NBA All-Star game hasn’t been heavy in years past. If the league sticks to using this “Elam Ending” where they post a final score to reach in order to end the game, we’ll at least have this year’s game as an indicator of what to expect.
Resetting the scores at the beginning of the second and third quarters to set up three mini games is also something you should probably get used to since Commissioner Adam Silver is very interested in “fixing” the competitive balance of the All-Star game and views the teams playing for prize money for charity as something that should yield results.
The number ‘24’ is being used for the fourth quarter to honor Bryant, so it will be interesting to monitor whether that figure ends up closer to 35 points down the road. Even with the team trailing likely to lock in on the defensive end in pursuit of a comeback, notching 24 points doesn’t sound too challenging for a team of All-Stars, which may result in a fairly brief fourth-quarter.
Expect James’ team to be favored and the chemistry he shares with Chicago native Anthony Davis to serve as a driving force for Team LeBron. If you’re laying the points and backing James to improve to 3-0 since drafting your own teams became the norm, find a way to ride Davis to win All-Star MVP.
As for me, I’m going the other way. Team Giannis has the ability to clamp down if they really take playing defense to heart. Although they would only be able to finish with one of their starting guards, Trae Young or Kemba Walker, the group has Jimmy Butler, Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo and Rudy Gobert capable of closing out a game on the defensive end. That said, I’m a big fan of the Team Giannis/under parlay.
In earlier events, the Rising Stars Challenge will be played on Friday and should feature both Luka Doncic (Team World) and Trae Young (Team USA) leading their respective sides despite making Sunday’s All-Star roster. Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Deandre Ayton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will also be in the mix, so expect the significant amount of talent to produce a high-scoring, competitive affair. Ride the ‘over.’
All-Star Saturday night should see Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie duel for the Skills Challenge title after winning the last two competitions. Tatum won last year’s and will be motivated to hang on to the title in tribute to Bryant. I like him to join Damian Lillard, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade as repeat Skills Challenge winners.
I like Miami Heat forward Duncan Robinson to beat Lillard in the Three-Point Contest and should be a great value pick since he’s the biggest unknown in the field. Lillard, Young, defending champ Joe Harris, Sacramento’s Buddy Hield and Chicago’s own Zach LaVine will all be more popular choices who won’t be able to hang with the undrafted 25-year-old, second-year wing.
The Heat will have the slam dunk champion on their roster too since Derrick Jones, Jr. will keep former runner-up Aaron Gordon of the Magic from earning his first title. L.A.’s Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton should add to a good show but it’s Jones’ artistry and ridiculous hops that you’ll be talking about coming out of the weekend. Of course, UNLV fans know what I’m talking about.
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