All star weekend predictions

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan stares at a referee as he leaves the court after a flagrant foul call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Phoenix. Jordan will be joining many others in the celebrity all-star game. (Matt York/ AP)

The NBA will turn its focus to New Orleans this weekend as the 2017 All-Star festivities get under way. Providing annual entertainment for basketball fans, all the events you know well will take place over the course of the weekend, highlighted by the 66th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. Here are my predictions for the different competitions.

Friday night: Things get going Friday night with the All-Star Celebrity Game. The teams are being coached by ESPN anchors Michael Smith and Jemele Hill in an effort to promote their new 6 p.m. “SportsCenter.” The rosters hardly feature any A-listers, but Smith’s team does have Master P, who could ball back in the day, and his son Romeo Miller, formerly Lil’ Romeo, who played a little college ball at USC, so I’m picking Smith’s team.

In terms of real basketball, the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge will take place right afterwards. Featuring first- and second-year NBA players, the game for the second straight year will feature rosters split into a U.S. team and a World team. Initially I was very inclined to the World team, but they have taken a blow with the news that Joel Embiid will be unable to participate this weekend and also lost nuggets point guard Emmanuel Mudiay as he recovers from injury. With that said, they still have Serbia’s Nikola Jokic and Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis leading the way. It should be entertaining as the U.S. counters with the league’s other two young big men phenoms, Myles Turner and Karl Anthony-Towns, who will suit up for the U.S. team despite representing the Dominican Republic in international play, as well as Devin Booker. Give me the U.S. team, but not by much.

Saturday night: Saturday marks a break from the games as the traditional contests the fans love most take center stage. The Taco Bell Skills Challenge is first, and what is traditionally a point guard-loaded field will have a different look to it as the NBA is letting some big boys show off their abilities too. The field will consist of Porzingis of the Knicks, DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings, Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, Devin Booker of the Suns, Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics and John Wall of the Wizards. Embiid was also slated to partake but injury has forced his withdrawal and the NBA has yet to announce a replacement. As things stand, Thomas has the most complete arsenal, and the most spunk, so I’m picking him to take home the trophy.

Immediately following that is the JBL Three-Point Contest. Reigning champion Klay Thompson is back, but Warriors teammate and the league’s best shooter Steph Curry is not. To keep his crown, Thompson will have to hold off Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Wesley Matthews of the Mavericks, C.J. McCollum of the Trail Blazers and Nick Young of the Lakers, as well as 2013 Three-Point champion Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers. It’s a very talented field; I see Thompson repeating but not without a strong challenge from the field.

Wrapping up is the ever-popular Verizon Slam Dunk Contest. Zach LaVine, after captivating us all the last two years, elected not to go for the three-peat this year, and recently tore his ACL, ending any hopes of watching him throw down this year. However, the Magic’s Aaron Gordon, who went toe-to-toe with LaVine last year, does return with his unbelievable athleticism. He will be joined by big man DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, wing Glenn Robinson III of the Pacers and the Derrick Jones Jr. of the Suns. As all competitors are spectacular athletes, it will be hard for big men like Jordan to draw the same reactions they usually do. Robinson has the athleticism, but simply put, no one has hops like Jones Jr. Like LaVine, he was a notorious dunker in his high school days, creating highlight reel after highlight reel, except his dunks were even better. Seriously, go YouTube him right now, he literally flies. I’m stoked to see what Jones Jr. brings to the big stage and he’s my definite choice to leave victorious.

Sunday night: All that leads up to Sunday night when the league’s premier talent from the East and West conferences will square off at 8:30 p.m. It’s easy to be dismissive of the game’s lackadaisical nature, but it is still the league’s best of the best in one setting putting on an offensive show, and I will always find some entertainment in that. The Western Conference is simply far superior to the East right now and the rosters reflect as such. Some of the so-called snubs in the West would easily be deserving of a spot in the East. Anything can happen in these games, but I expect the West to take care of business while Russell Westbrook puts on an absurd performance coming off the bench like he has done in past All-Star games.

It should be a fun weekend for NBA fans, and that’s what All-Star weekend is more about than anything else. While the events lack intensity, they don’t lack star power, athleticism and skill, and this year shouldn’t be any different, bringing enjoyment to basketball admirers everywhere.


Matt Barresi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.