The most difficult thing for me, with regards to covering the All-Star Weekend, is finding an angle or a story that isn’t done to death by everybody out there. With nothing else happening in the NBA, and every man, woman, and child getting press credentials, it’s hard to write something that hasn’t been written or is being written by 30 or 40 other people.
Having a horse in the fight helps. Covering your own player provides somebody like me with a more personal entree into the weekends events, but even then, without being on the scene there’s little much of value I can add.
That being said, here’s my best attempt. OK, not my best attempt (considering that two of the three nights of events are already over), but my attempt nonetheless.
Coming into this All-Star Weekend, I was mostly looking forward to watching Damian Lillard. Having seen Dame play more than most people, he’s game is far from a mystery to me, but I was intrigued to see how he would fare against the other top talents in the NBA while performing on the league’s biggest stage.
All things considered, Friday night was a bit of a let down. And not just where Damian was concerned. I understand the purpose of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge (and it’s many other iterations), I just don’t know why it has to be played the way it’s played. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless exhibition game, that’s certainly the truth, but that doesn’t mean guys shouldn’t even pretend to play defense.
Maybe I’m saying this because a game without defense favors players like Kenneth Faried (who scored 40 points, mostly on dunks, and ran away with the game’s MVP honors). Of course that’s why I’m saying it.
I asked Damian, a few weeks before the All-Star Break, if he wanted to have an outing like Kyrie Irving did in his first All-Star Game related activity (Irving went 8-of-8 from three, finished with 34 points, and was named the MVP in last year’s Rising Stars Challenge). Lillard told me he had nothing specific in mind, but he was going to try and play hard and try to help his team get a win. He seemed to do one of those two things, scoring 18 points in 27 and a half minutes, but couldn’t do enough to give Team Shaq a chance against the improbably hot-shooting, and less improbably crazy dunking, Team Chuck.
“I could’ve made a lot more shots,” Lillard said following Friday’s game. “It’s a freelance game. The shots were easier than a regular game. I missed some layups. I missed a dunk that I should’ve made. The ball came out of my hands. I just missed some shots.”
It wasn’t Damian’s best showing, and even if his name and likeness were used to promote the event, the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge was mostly about Kyrie Irving, still the vanguard of the NBA’s newest youth movement. Kyrie, as part of Team Shaq, didn’t show up until the score was out of hand in favor of Team Chuck, but when he decided to contribute, everybody in the Toyota Center took notice.
Irving is a dominate scorer and an incredibly talented ball handler. He doesn’t have the type of talent that will get Cleveland into the Finals (at least not all by himself like LeBron did), but with four representatives in the Rising Stars Challenge (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Tyler Zeller), the future certainly is bright for the Cavaliers.
Kyrie was also one of the stars of Saturday Night, wining the Three-Point Shooting Contest, and it was on Saturday night that Damian Lillard got a chance to separate himself from some of the other individuals on display.
Damian recorded the fastest time through the Skills Challenge obstacle course (28.8 seconds) in his first run, and then sailed through it in 29.8 seconds in his final run to beat first-time All-Star Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers.
My personal favorite moment of the Skills Challenge came during Lillard’s first run when Ernie Johnson, providing play-by-play for TNT, implied that Damian might be the Rookie of the Year in 2012-13 and Reggie Miller and Kenny “the Jet” Smith corrected him in unison, saying that Dame was definitely winning Rookie of the Year.
Here is the official press release from the Blazers announcing Damian’s win, the first win in an NBA Saturday Night event for a Trail Blazer:
DAMIAN LILLARD WINS 2013 TACO BELL SKILLS CHALLENGE AT ALL-STAR WEEKEND
Trail Blazers rookie bests NBA’s top guards
PORTLAND, Ore. (February 16, 2013) – Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night.
The event challenges the NBA’s top guards to work against the clock in a series of passes, free throws, layups and agility drills.
Lillard posted the best time of the night, 28.8 seconds, in the first round to advance to the finals. He then defeated Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday with a time of 29.8 seconds to take the crown.
“I think the biggest thing for me was to try not to be too cool and speed through it, but take my time with the passes and shots,” Lillard said after the competition. “And when I’m making a pass, I basically try not to run away before it goes in so I don’t waste time.”
Portland’s 6-3 guard ranks 19th in the NBA in scoring (18.3), 14th in assists (6.5), tied for eighth in 3-pointers made (116) and his 25 games of 20-plus points rank tied for 13th in the NBA. A product of Weber State, Lillard was drafted No. 6 overall by the Trail Blazers in the 2012 NBA Draft.
The three-time Kia NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month also participated in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, finishing with 18 points, three rebounds, five assists and two steals in a game-high 28 minutes. His 18 points tied LaMarcus Aldridge (2008) for the most by a Trail Blazer in any rookie/sophomore game at All-Star Weekend.
Sunday is the All-Star main event. It should be at least an interesting game. My prediction is that Kyrie Irving might have yet another headline grabbing performance. Damian Lillard has turned out to be one of the young favorites among the established older stars in the NBA, but he won’t be participating in the actual All-Star Game. Kyrie Irving, like Lillard, is a young guy who gets a ton of respect from the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. There’s a possibility LeBron tries to feed Irving early, and if he gets hot, continues to go to him throughout the evening.
Regardless of how it goes down, you can bet that spectacle is going outshine any actual game play. And that’s basically what the All-Star Weekend is all about.