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Links: NBA incentivizes the All-Star Game

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Plus, the injury plague hits the league, and Steph Curry dominates.

NBA: All Star Game-Eastern at Western Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the league is trying hard to make the 2018 NBA All-Star Game more competitive than it has been in recent years. Getting rid of conferences and letting players draft teams was the first step, and a creative one at that.

The second step was a bit more direct: Money. According to ESPN, the league has doubled the amount of money that the winning players will make. Players on the winning team will now be compensated $100,000, a fair bit more than the $25,000 that the losers will make.

The question is, will that extra dough really incentivize a bunch of millionaires? The players seem to think so. Check out the quotes from some of the All-Stars, including a few Golden State Warriors:

Klay Thompson: “I think it will help, for sure. That’s a lot of money.”

Stephen Curry: “That’s significant. For some players, they just want to see [the game] being worth their time.”

Kyrie Irving: “That’ll certainly make it more interesting. That’s a huge difference.”

We’ll find out soon enough, as the All-Star Game takes place on Sunday, February 18, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

The All-Star Game gets its coaches

The All-Star Game may still be a few weeks away, but the coaches have already been chosen. Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors will lead Team LeBron, while Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets will coach Team Steph.

Casey and D’Antoni got the honor because their teams have clinched at least the second seed for the All-Star break. The coaches of the current conference leaders - Steve Kerr of the Warriors and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics - were last year’s coaches, and thus ineligible for this game.

But here’s the fun part: Curry, who drafted a small team full of shooters for the All-Star Game, did so in part because he knew D’Antoni would likely be coach.

Brilliant.

In case you didn’t know . . .

Steph Curry is the face of the franchise. That was on full display during his 49-point performance on Saturday.

I admit that the “Steph Curry or Kevin Durant” discussion gets tiring. There’s no need to elect one as better than the other. But it is clear that, when it comes to the Warriors, no one means what Curry means.

At The Athletic, Tim Kawakami poetically described Curry’s impact on this franchise, and painted a powerful scene from Saturday:

Stephen Curry didn’t say a word, but he was communicating a million meaningful things, anyway. Loudly and clearly and undeniably.

This wasn’t a heat-of-the-moment message. It was more about the man of the moment, the game, and of this entire era of Warriors basketball.

With 7:34 left in the Warriors’ wonderfully intense game against the Boston Celtics on Saturday night at Oracle Arena, after Curry had his usual rest during the first part of the fourth quarter, Curry stood up while Steve Kerr huddled with his assistants, then just stood there, five feet away, while they figured out what they were going to do next.

Again: No words, according to Curry; he just stood there, towel on his head, glancing over his shoulder, silently reminding the coaches that it was time for him to get back in and close out this game.

The whole article is spot on. Curry’s brilliance on Saturday was a microcosm of what he has done for the Warriors over the years. And, even with two MVPs in the rear-view mirror, Curry’s best days may not be behind him, as Kawakami noted:

Curry is hot right now. He’s feeling good. I’d suggest that, a few weeks before his 30th birthday, he’s at his career apex, in the absolute peak of his prime — but I think I’ve said that for three years now, and he keeps nudging his performance-level higher.

Injuries shake up the west

The injury bug sadly struck the Western Conference this week. New Orleans Pelicans big man and All-Star starter DeMarcus Cousins suffered a ruptured achilles, while Oklahoma City Thunder defensive stalwart Andre Roberson ruptured his left patellar tendon.

Unfortunately, both injuries were season-ending.

This is a huge bummer for the teams and for the league. Injuries are inherently bad, but it’s especially rough when they happen to impact players on playoff teams.

This shakes up the West, and will likely have an impact on the Warriors. Cousins and Roberson are both players that have been a thorn in the Warriors’ side in past years. Cousins for his ability to punish smaller teams, and Roberson for his ability to provide quality defense against Curry, Durant, and Thompson.

The Western Conference playoff picture looks a little bit different now. That’s part of sports, but it sure does suck.

NBA Finals: Warriors vs Celtics?

Anyone who watched Saturday’s epic game is likely clamoring for a June showdown between the Warriors and Celtics.

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. Despite both teams being on top of their respective conferences, SB Nation’s Kristian Winfield warned that a Finals matchup probably won’t happen:

The road for this series to actually happen in the NBA Finals won’t be easy. Boston is as solid as they come, but they’ll have to get by DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and the Raptors, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and, of course, LeBron James and the forever contending Cleveland Cavaliers to get there.

And if you thought the road to the Finals was clear for the Warrior, you thought wrong. The Rockets — now with James Harden and Chris Paul — are for real time season, and the Spurs, Timberwolves and Thunder will each make life difficult for Golden State, looking to make its fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.

Either way, the Celtics and Warriors put on a show on Saturday night. It’s only a shame we probably have to wait until next season to see a rematch.

Well, we can dream . . .

KD makes fun of himself

We’ll just leave this here . . .