The 2013 National Basketball Association's All-Star Weekend in Houston is officially in the books, and the League, after suffering through a lockout-shortened season last year, is back on track in a major way. While LeBron James is playing at a record-breaking efficiency rate and the Lakers have stumbled in ways that no one expected, the regular season has been full of drama. Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs might be having his best season ever and the Oklahoma City Thunder, after shocking the League by trading James Harden have quietly put together one of their best seasons. The Boston Celtics are in the midst of proving the Ewing Theory to be a valid theory, going 8-1 in games since star point guard Rajon Rondo went down, and the Chicago Bulls are sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference despite Derrick Rose being far away from returning to the court.
In the midst of this tumultuous return-to-glory season, the NBA's just-over halfway break is a welcome change of pace for the competitors. On Friday night, things get kicked off in the most relaxed way possible: an All-Star game in name only, celebrities and ex-players attempted to show off their skills. Amongst the players this year: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who played professionally in Australia, and comedian Kevin Hart, who makes a habit of winning the MVP trophy in these games, whether he has the best game or not. Theoretically, after the celebs get off the court, things are supposed to pick up a notch. Formerly called the Rookies versus Sophomores Game, All-Star Friday night's last event has been rechristened the Rising Stars Challenge. The reasoning? The NBA wanted to break up the 1st and 2nd year players, making for a more competitive game. This year's game showed that intentions don't always follow format. The Rising Stars game's final score was 163-135.
Things were planned to pick up on Saturday night, but once again didn't necessarily live up to expectations. After the much-maligned Shooting Stars challenge, the guards took to the floor for the Skills Challenge. The only safe bet was that defending champ Tony Parker wouldn't want to win again in order to avoid being asked back next year. Damian Lillard won the event with a time of 29.8 seconds. After the presumable-rookie of the year got his trophy, the anticipation for the next two events was building. Normally a snoozable event, the Three Point Contest had received a little press for the grassroots Twitter campaign of Matt Bonner. Bonner's dedication to the event paid off when he made the final round, but he couldn't overcome the red-hot shooting of last year's ROY, Kyrie Irving. Last but not least, the Dunk Contest was supposed to be filled with pure dunkers, despite a lack of starpowered names. While Gerald Green got things off on the right foot with a 50 as the first dunk of the night, nailing it on his first attempt, the contest quickly descended into what Deadspin noted was a less than 30 percent shooting event. Granted, some of the dunks were incredibly difficult, but it's hard to maintain enthusiasm for something - even if it's incredibly difficult - when the misses are piling up. Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors eventually took the crown from last year's champ, Jeremy Evans, despite an amazingly so-cheesy-it-was-good dunk, with Evans jumping over a painting of himself dunking.
When Sunday finally rolled around, the elements were all in place for a great game, the best in the world getting to play basketball without any of that pesky defense getting in the way. The game never descended into the trap of a blowout that makes viewers tune out and players give up on anything other than one on one clear outs and dunk contests. The biggest attention gatherers were the MVP-performance of Chris Paul and the stifling defense that Kobe Bryant played on LeBron James down the stretch. More than anything else, those two factors led to the West triumphing over the East, with a final score of 143-138.
The NBA's regular schedule returns on Tuesday as the players make ready for the second half of the season and the push to the playoffs.