Storylines, subplots for Sunday's All-Star Game
Mile High Preview
The 54th annual classic presents plenty of intrigue: Why is Grant Hill so nervous (hint: it’s not what you think), Can Shaq stop the East’s losing skid? Will the reunification of the Nash & Nowitzki tandem propel the West to a fourth straight victory? And does history back Gilbert Arenas’ MVP prediction as a first-time All-Star? These are just a few of the many storylines to take center stage when the 54th annual NBA All-Star Game tips off in Denver on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on TNT. Here is a look at some others.
Nervous as Hill
"No butterflies," the seven-time All-Star said about returning to action on Sunday. "There will be butterflies for my wife [recording artist, Tamia] singing the Canadian national anthem. I get more nervous when she performs than she does. Once we get through the Canadian national anthem, it will be all downhill from there."
Big D duo reunited in Denver
“It kind of makes this All-Star Game special again,” said Nowitzki. “I haven’t really been able to catch up with him all season long, so it’s going to be a fun weekend and it’s going to be special that some of my best friends are around.”
“Some of these guys, we go way back, all the way back to our high-school days, particularly myself and Tracy [McGrady],” said Kobe Bryant. “We’ve never had an opportunity to play alongside each other, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
For O’Neal, the 7-1 center says expect to see a little Showtime -- East Coast style -- with him at point.
“I would like to have the ball in the middle and have LeBron [James] on my right and Vince [Carter] on my left, and I would have to give each of them a crazy pass because I know they would finish them. That will probably happen in the game.”
Bryant reflected on the present and on the past in speaking about O’Neal.
“He's in the East, and he's doing his thing,” said Bryant. “I'm in the West, we're trying to make a playoff push. In the last five seasons, we won three rings. From that standpoint, it's all good.”
First-timers are feeling it
“I was here last year, but being a part of the other game,” said Ginobili referring to last year’s got milk? Rookie Challenge. “But this is different. It all started 15 minutes ago (early Friday afternoon) when we were having the meeting, and I was looking at my side, and it was [Tracy] McGrady, Kobe [Bryant]. Of course I’m used to having Tim [Duncan], but K.G., Yao and all those great players! And I was between them and it was a very good feeling.”
For Lewis, having the chance to learn from his fellow teammates, particularly Garnett will certainly be worthwhile come Sunday.
“He looks so intense when he plays, and I just want to see what he's like in the locker room," said Lewis. “Does he just flip a switch and get like that, or is he like that when he gets to the arena? I know it's an All-Star Game so it's not the same as a real game, but out of everybody, he's the guy I'll probably be watching."
First-time All-Star coaches, Stan Van Gundy (East) and Gregg Popovich (West) are also looking forward to their first experience. Popovich even shared some of his game strategy, which shockingly may benefit his San Antonio Spurs when the regular season resumes.
“We play Houston on Wednesday so [Tracy] McGrady and Yao Ming will play 47 (minutes) on Sunday and Timmie is going to play about five,” joked Popovich.
Shift of power, thanks to Shaq?
Or maybe not.
“You think that’s going to change?,” inquired Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns. “We’re going to still win. Shaq’s my man. I like Shaq but I think we’re going to win.”
Despite Marion’s confidence, Garnett will miss playing with No. 32, something he’s done for the past six seasons.
“Diesel is the life of the party, if you will,” said Garnett. “He comes in, jokes, and relaxes everybody. It’s good to see him and his team doing well, but it would be even better to have him on our team.”
Nowitzki will also miss O’Neal’s presence in the middle for the West.
“Shaq is a beast, no question,” said Nowitzki. “Obviously Shaq makes the game a lot easier for everyone else out there. Anything can happen in an All-Star Game. It’s going to be an up and down game. So, who knows, we’ll see.”
Arenas makes bold prediction
In the history of the NBA All-Star Game, seven first-time players have won MVP honors in their first NBA All-Star appearance: Ed Macauley (Boston Celtics, 1951), Elgin Baylor (Minneapolis Lakers, 1959, shared honors with Bob Pettit), Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia Warriors, 1960), Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals, 1961), Adrian Smith (Cincinnati Royals, 1966), Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers, 1977), Tom Chambers (Seattle SuperSonics, 1987).
Will Arenas or any of the first time All-Stars --- Ginobili, Lewis, James, Jamison, Wade, Stoudemire --- be the eighth? We’ll see.
Don't forget Z
"While I was going through everything with my ankle, Z was a real inspiration,'' Hill said. "We have a special connection."