This Sunday in Atlanta the 70th NBA All-Star Game will be played and — given the state of the world still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic — the usual festivities will work a little differently this year.
For starters, all the all-star events are being distilled down to just the all-star Sunday as opposed to a three-day extravaganza.
In order to make this work, the Rising Stars game is not being played this year and the All-Star Saturday Night’s competitions are all being crammed into Sunday’s main event, with the dunk contest taking place during half-time of Sunday’s big game.
Confused at how this is all working, or maybe just want to know who you’ll see when everything gets going Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on Sportsnet? Here’s a quick primer with everything you need to know.
All-Star Game rosters
The two all-star teams, Team LeBron and Team Durant, held a draft Thursday night and these were the results:
— #NBAAllStar (@NBAAllStar) March 6, 2021
Reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was the first-overall selection by the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and Kyrie Irving went second overall with fellow Brooklyn Nets teammate Kevin Durant’s first pick.
Despite picking his team, Durant won’t be participating in Sunday’s game as it was announced last week he’d be out until after the all-star break with a hamstring strain.
Durant was replaced by Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis as an Eastern Conference all-star, but he ended up getting drafted by James. Additionally, because Durant is unable to play, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics was named a starter in his place — and he ended up getting drafted by Durant.
In other injury news, Anthony Davis was selected as an all-star but will be unable to play, so Devin Booker was named as his injury replacement and was taken by Durant.
However, because of a knee injury that was announced Friday evening, Booker is unable to play, leading to Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley taking his spot on Team Durant and earning his first-ever all-star nod, joining his teammates Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
In a bit of late news on Sunday, the NBA announced that the two Philadelphia 76ers all-stars, Joel Embiid on Team Durant and Ben Simmons on Team LeBron, will not be able to play on Sunday after it was discovered they had contact with an individual, who according to multiple reports is believed to be their personal barber, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Given the fact this was discovered on the day of the all-star game, no all-star replacements could be lined up for the two of them, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Zion Williamson will replace Embiid as a starter on Team Durant.
And just one quick note on the best part of Thursday’s all-star draft: Despite their protestations, the fact that Mitchell and Gobert were the last two picks of the draft despite playing for the NBA’s best team was absolutely slander against the Jazz — even if it’s true that no one outside of the state of Utah has ever picked them in any basketball video game ever.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 5, 2021
All-Star Game format
If you remember last year’s spectacular all-star game, then you already know how this year’s works.
NBA All-Star Game Format
The game will follow the same format as last year, with the teams competing to win each quarter and playing to a Final Target Score during the untimed fourth quarter. #NBAAllStar
— #NBAAllStar (@NBAAllStar) February 18, 2021
The super fun Elam Ending is returning with the hopes that the contest will end up just as competitive as last year’s.
Basically, the way this works is the first three quarters will all be mini games to each their own, with the score resetting to 0-0 after each quarter. These first three quarters will last the standard 12 minutes, but then everything will change in the fourth quarter.
When the fourth rolls around, the game clock will turn off and a target score will be set where the goal will be to hit that target score or surpass, with the first team to do so winning. This target score will be set by the team that’s scored the most cumulative points over the first three quarters plus 24 — a nice little homage to the late Kobe Bryant from last year that’s stuck around for this year at least.
So, for example, if, over the first three quarters, Team LeBron scored 35, 37 and 29 points for a total of 101 and Team Durant scored 33, 40 and 23, points, respectively, for 96 points then the target to meet would be 125 points as Team LeBron ended up scoring more over the course of the game, despite dropping two quarters to Team Durant.
It’s also worth noting that, using this example again, Team LeBron would start the fourth quarter with 101 points and Team Durant with 96.
Written out it may seem complicated, but what you need to know is that this kind of finish to the game is called an Elam Ending — named after Nick Elam, an educational leadership professor at Ball State University, the man who invented it — and it ensures that the game will end on a basket, meaning if you’re a team that’s behind you have a chance to come back because the clock isn’t a factor in your comeback attempt, and if you’re ahead it incentivizes playing hard right to the end because you have to keep scoring to win.
In other words, the game, theoretically, will stay competitive right to the final possession.
All-Star Game court
When the all-star game was announced, along with it came a commitment from the NBA to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The league has announced it has donated $3 million already in initial support of HBCUs and the court on Sunday in Atlanta will be a special HBCU-inspired court design.
The first look at the NBA All-Star 2021 game court in Atlanta!
All of All-Star in One Night, Sunday, TNT:
— NBA (@NBA) March 5, 2021
Additionally, players will wear patches celebrating the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and UNCF, and the three all-star game officials will be alumni from HBCUs, Norfolk State graduate Tom Washington, Courtney Kirkland, who graduated from Southern University and Clark Atlanta University grad Tony Brown.
Slam Dunk Competition
Because it’s taking place during half-time of the all-star game, the dunk contest will be smaller this year with only a three-man field.
The three competitors are Cassius Stanley of the Indiana Pacers (though he’s currently with the Pacers’ G League team), New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin and Anfernee Simons of the Portland Trail Blazers.
This isn’t exactly a star-studded field and isn’t one that many fans would want to see, particularly because it’s possible a better dunk show will be put on by first time all-star Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans during the game itself — a guy that just about every hoops fanatic wanted to see in the NBA dunk contest after his legendary high school exploits in this kind of competition.
Alas, this is what we have to work with, and though just looking at the names on paper may seem disappointing, make no mistake, all of these guys have some serious bounce.
Still not convinced? Check out these clips:
— Dayton Basketball (@DaytonMBB) March 3, 2021
For our money, we like Toppin to take the event, but all of these guys have the bunnies to put on an entertaining show, regardless.
Of all the all-star events taking place, this is probably the most anticipated one because of the killer field.
Mike Conley, Jaylen Brown, Stephen Curry, Zach LaVine, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum. All of these guys are absolute gunners from deep and you can make a case for each of them to win the whole damn thing.
Given how important and prevalent the three-point shot is in today’s NBA game is makes sense that the three-point shooting competition would take centre stage as the premier all-star event. This killer field is a perfect reflection of what modern basketball is all about.
The least-heralded event of all the NBA all-star festivities, the skills competition is back once again with what has now become the standard ‘Bigs vs. Smalls’ format.
The six participants this year are Robert Covington, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Julius Randle, Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic.
Most interestingly about this event is Paul’s inclusion. This will be the fifth time he’s participating in it and the first time since 2011. And despite the number of times he’s entered, Paul has never won it.
At 35 years of age it’s unclear how many more of these events Paul may have left in him, so simply for his sake of not needing to do one of these again, we’ll be rooting hard for him to finally win.
Despite there being no Rising Stars game, the two Rising Stars teams (Team USA and Team World) were announced with five Canadians making the cut on the World squad.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, R.J. Barrett, Brandon Clarke, Luguentz Dort and Mychal Mulder are all great young Canadians with a bright future ahead of them.
Something really cool about the Rising Stars this year was that the rosters were revealed using NBA Top Shot. When the pack drops those moments are likely to fetch a pretty penny.