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
Five years, five ankle surgeries, one staph infection and 97 games removed from his last NBA All-Star appearance, it’s easy to understand if Grant Hill is feeling just a tad anxious about Sunday’s tip off, although not for the reasons one might suspect.

"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
Nash and Nowitzki catch up on the team bus to practice.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Sunday's All-Star Game will feature a reunion of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki, one of the NBA’s top tandems in Dallas for six years before parting ways during the offseason. Nash signed a long-term deal in Phoenix and has unofficially been anointed as this season’s MVP with 37 games remaining while Nowitzki is also enjoying a career season, ranking third in the NBA in scoring (26.9 ppg). Sunday’s game will be the third time the pair will be together representing the West.

“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.”

( Watch NBA TV's Nowitzki-Nash interview: 300k | mp3)

New acquaintances
With perennial All-Stars Shaquille O’Neal and Tracy McGrady switching conferences, players on both sides are looking forward to the endless possibilities of running with some new teammates.

“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.”

Old acquaintances
The game will also feature two former longtime teammates now on opposite teams. Bryant and O’Neal, who played eight seasons together with the Los Angeles Lakers and six as All-Stars will undoubtedly go head to head at times during 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
Sunday’s game will feature seven new All-Stars -- Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, Dwyane Wade in the East and Manu Ginobili, Rashard Lewis, Amare Stoudemire in the West -- who are all in awe of the special opportunity.

“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?
LeBron, Z, Gilbert and A.I. should benefit from playing next to Shaq.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
The East will be looking to stop the three-game losing streak to the West and should receive a big boost with the arrival of last season’s All-Star Game MVP, O’Neal.

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
Think Gilbert Arenas is happy to be appearing in his first NBA All-Star Game? The point guard, who was selected in the second round of the 2001 NBA Draft predicted on Friday evening that not only will the East win but that he’ll also take home the MVP hardware. His goal is certainly not unprecedented.

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 the Grant Hill comeback story is certainly the feel-good one of the weekend, it’s easy to overlook Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ road to All-Star status and the myriad of problems he experienced with his feet. The 7-3 center from Lithuania made his first All-Star appearance in 2003 after overcoming five foot operations and has played in 81 games in each of the past two seasons. So, it’s fitting that he and Hill will be teammates on Sunday.

"While I was going through everything with my ankle, Z was a real inspiration,'' Hill said. "We have a special connection."