By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
RESERVATIONS FOR 14, PLEASE
Finally, some time alone!
Yes, for a moment, he has the All-Star stage -- and his thoughts -- to himself. The weekend is full of appearances, interviews and activities. For 10 fleeting seconds, no publicist will tug at his arm, no tape recorder will be thrust in his mug, no buddies will be dragging him to a thumpin' party. (OK, so maybe that's not so bad.)
It will just be him, his spotlight and a score of appreciative, star-struck children to give him a high-five as he walks down the ramp to slap hands with his temporary teammates.
As of today, we know the starters, the 10 men fans from all over the globe selected to be on the floor for the opening tip in Atlanta on Feb. 9.
The Raptors forward was voted to start as a forward in the Eastern Conference and, despite playing 11 games, said he would play in the All-Star Game if he is healthy. He looked mighty healthy when he scored 22 points in a Raptors win over the Kings on Sunday. (USA Today)
With Carter's return, it probably means that Michael Jordan has a decision to make. It wouldn't have surprised anyone to have seen Jordan's name penciled in if Carter couldn't have played in the game. But with Carter back, Jordan has mentioned that he doesn't want special consideration. (Washington Post)
Injuries have wreaked havoc on the East. All-Star candidates such as Boston's Antoine Walker, New Orleans' Baron Davis, who just had knee surgery and the Hornets Jamal Mashburn are on the sidelines. Walker may return Friday and Mashburn is questionable for this week, but there is no timetable for Davis' return.
All of which will make the next few weeks very interesting. That's why Click and Roll is here to break down the races for the remaining spots.
Slam dunks -- East
New Jersey's Jason Kidd should be on the squad. The game's best point guard and MVP candidate is having his best season as he is second in the league in assists, third in steals and is averaging 20.7 points per game, six points more than his career average.
You can be sure Boston's Paul Pierce should be there as well. He's averaging career-highs in points (26.3), rebounds (7.6) and, yes, assists (4.5).
Spots remaining: five
Despite missing 12 games, O'Neal is still the game's most dominant force. At 22.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, Nowitzki is the best player on the league's most successful team. Webber has become a legitimate MVP candidate as he has kept the Kings atop the Pacific Division. A power forward who is a threat to turn in a triple-double, Webber makes his teammates better.
Free throws -- East
Unless you're Chris Dudley, the free throw is one of the easier shots a player will ever take. Still, nobody's perfect, and misses occur. We won't, however shy away from stepping up to the line. So, deep breath, bend the knees, focus, release ...
When it comes to power forwards and centers, the East comes up short in many ways. The East center having the best season, besides starter Ben Wallace is Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
"Z" has been healthy, an achievement in itself, and productive, which is a result of being healthy. At 7-3, the East needs someone to bang with Yao and Shaq, and Ilgauskas fits the bill.
With the centers taken care of, the East needs forwards. While power may be in short supply, Boston's Walker grabs 7.5 rebounds per game. Plus, Walker's versatility and ball handling skills should allow East coach Isiah Thomas to have Walker get the ball to guys like Allen Iverson and Pierce.
That leaves the final forward spot to be fought over by Mashburn and Indiana's Ron Artest. While Mashburn's numbers across the board (20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists) trump Artest's (15.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists), Artest makes his name on defense with a bruising brand of basketball. And while it would be hard to imagine that the conference's top seed would have only one All-Star (Jermaine O'Neal), I give the nod to Mashburn, who has never been an All-Star.
As for the guard-rich East, the decisions become tougher with the little guys as there are many guards who are having All-Star calibre seasons: Milwaukee's Ray Allen and Sam Cassell, Chicago's Jalen Rose, Washington's Jerry Stackhouse, Cleveland's Ricky Davis and Detroit's Richard Hamilton.
While Allen and Cassell form one of the league's better backcourts, they could cancel each other out. Davis is electric, but you can have two guys from the league's worst team on the All-Star squad. Hamilton is averaging 20.2 points, Stackhouse gives the Wizards 22.6 per night and Rose tallies 23.1. My choice: Allen. The East doesn't have a legitimate high-percentage shooter on the team. Allen, at 21.8 points per game and 40 percent from three-point range, gives them that.
Free throws -- West
We got most of the big lugs out of the way, but we have one more forward left to name. Hmm: Phoenix's Shawn Marion or Golden State's Antawn Jamison. While Jamison has the Warriors playing their best ball since the early '90s, Marion's all-around play (21.5 points, 9.6 boards and 1.9 steals per game) on a better team gives him a slight edge.
As for the guards, I think it's pretty easy. I would pick Seattle's Gary Payton and Phoenix's Stephon Marbury. At 34, Payton leads the league in assists, and Marbury for the last month, has been the best point guard in the West.
Is it getting dusty in here? I have something in my eye -- East
An obvious sentimental favorite in the East, seeing Jordan make one last All-Star appearance would not upset me and I think it will happen. Expect the oviation to be long and thunderous.
Is it getting dusty in here? I have something in my eye -- West
It would be nice to have David Robinson, who is retiring, and Utah's Karl Malone and John Stockton make the All-Star team, but with each of their positions stacked with talent, it probably won't happen.
DO I HEAR 68?
I promise, Kings fans (I love your team, I really do! Plus, what guy wouldn't want to be Joe and/or Gavin Maloof?) that this will be the final mention of the 70-win prediction made by point guard Mike Bibby before the season. (Sacramento Bee)
Why? Because that prediction fell short as the Kings lost their 12th (at Atlanta) and 13th (at Toronto) games of the season this weekend, rendering 70 unreachable.
Now, the Kings can get to the task at hand -- maintaining their lead in the Pacific while shooting for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Kings have their work cut out for them this week as they host Utah on Tuesday, head to Seattle on Thursday and then turn around get the dreaded Lakers on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Think the noisemakers and the cowbells will be out that night?
The good thing for Kings fans, is their team has met the challenge every time this season when it has come to "big" games -- two clobberings of New Jersey, a drubbing of the Mavs and a satisfying win over the Lakers in L.A. on Christmas. The bad thing, however, is the Kings have followed each of those wins with a loss.
Sacramento's first game after the Lakers? A tough one on Sunday, Feb. 2 in Houston.
JORDAN'S CHI-TOWN FAREWELL
Michael Jordan was moved by his five-minute standing "O" Friday in Chicago, his final game in the town he once owned.
Some, however, pine for days gone by. (CNNSI.com)
(And while we're looking into the wayback machine, this is what Craig Ehlo, Jordan's most public victim, is doing these days. -- Seattle Times)
Others speculate, however, that this will not be Jordan's final bow. What, Jordan's changed his mind before? (ESPN.com)
YAO IN CHICAGO
While the Rockets have lost four consecutive games since their thrilling win over the Lakers in Houston, some have wondered if Yao has hit the great rookie wall, but he says he hasn't. Heck, he hasn't even asked for a king-sized bed on the road. (Chicago Sun-Times)
How hot is the press coverage surrounding the Suns' Amare Stoudemire? This weekend alone, there were SEVEN different stories in papers across the nation on the phenom:
1) That's Amare (N.Y. Daily News)
(On a personal note, I vote we retire the "That's Amare" headline right now. It belongs in the rafters with headline clichés such as "Centers of Attention," "Jordan Rules," "Sonic Boom," "Kings for a Day," "Jazz Hit the Right Notes," "Rockets Blast Off," "Setting the Pace," "Can't Take the Heat," and "Magic Act" to name too many. If you have one that I've missed, send it to us. We'll print the best one's next week.)
I can't believe I missed this one. Even though it's more than a week old, lists like this leave an aftertaste -- and a bitter one at that for some fans. (CNNSI.com)
Meanwhile, Shaq needs to don his cape and save the day! (L.A. Daily News)
The Spurs will be on the road for nine consecutive games because the rodeo has come to San Antonio and there ain't room in the SBC center for the both of them. The players, of course, think they're getting a bum steer. (San Antonio News-Express)
New Orleans' forward Robert "Tractor" Traylor comes from a long line of folk worthy of farm equipment sobriquets. According to this story, Traylor was so big when he was born, he had to wear basketball shoes instead of baby booties. (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Yep, the Warriors are in a golden state right now, with wins this week over the Lakers, the Nets (on back-to-back nights no less, the first time since 1973 a team has defeated the defending conference champs) and the Jazz. (Contra Costa Times)