In the Paint: NBA All-Star Edition

With the weekend festivities in the books, the excitement is over and the there is a calm before the storm that is the NBA trade deadline the hits Thursday at 3 pm eastern standard time. If All Star weekend doesn’t get you riled up for the incoming post-season, you must not have a pulse. And there are several take away that I saw that can indicate who will have success, who will fall short and how the rest of the 2014-2015 NBA season will shape up. Follow me after the jump to read this special NBA All-Star In-the-Paint.

THE BEST
Russell Westbrook had a great and efficient All-Star Game, raining 41 points and winning the NBA All-Star MVP. He showed he is no longer in anyone’s shadow and the Thunder guard is as much of a threat offensively as any other Superstar *ahem* Kevin Durant *ahem* on the OKC roster. With a barrage of threes and vicious dunks, Westbrook was a star among stars in a game that cannot be characterized by defensive efforts.
THE WORST
I understand that the point of the All-Star Game is suppose to be a fun matchup between players the fans want to see, and I understand none of those players, most of them carrying their respective team, do not want to get injured, but does none of these players have enough competitive spirit to play any type of defense? I mean com’on, doing more than flailing your arms at a guy on the three point line isn’t asking too much. I’m not saying these guys should go and contest dunks, or aggressively make plays for the ball, like Dwayne Wade did when he broke Kobe Bryant’s nose two games ago, but it would be nice to see if guys actually want to win the game or not. I miss the days when All-Star games were fun but were also a showcase of the best basketball talents and their competitiveness. In order to save the game, he incentive to win needs to be raised.
THE SURPRISING
The dunk contest may have been saved. The injection of youth with the lineup of all second and first year players produced one of the best dunk contests since Nate Robinson jumped over Dwight Howard wearing all green. Despite coming in last place, Giannis Antetokounmpo would have had one of the coolest slams ever seen in the dunk contest. The hand-eye coordination to catch the ball well behind ones head and finish is absurdly difficult. Mason Plumlee put on a good show for his crowd, representing the host city well. Victor Olidipo and Zach LaVine used both creativity and ridiculous athleticism to compete down to the wire in a dunk contest that reminded me a lot of the 2000 competition between Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. These two youngsters showed that the NBA is in really good hands, both also performing really well in the Rising Stars Challenge. LaVine started the contest with his Space-Jam dunk, a through the legs, and finishing on the other side of the rim with his head almost touching the rim, and shut down the contest with an off the extension, through the legs finish featuring fellow UCLA product and current Wolves teammate, Shabazz Muhammud. He was just incredible.
THE EXCITING
If you missed the 3-point Contest, you are crazy. In a lineup stacked with sharpshooters, the contest delivered. Although my prediction from my preview was wrong, the final three came down to a reigning champ in Kyrie Irving and the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. After Irving struggled, it was Curry, who almost never missed who beat out Thompson for the crown of the NBA’s best 3-point shooter. It proved to be every bit as exciting and then some.
 
MY TAKEAWAY
If I noticed one thing from this game, its that the Thunder might be poised for a serious postseason run. With Westbrook’s play and the increasingly good health of the Thunder roster, the current 10th place team out of OKC may receive some favorable first round match-ups that could help situate the team for an extended post-season. If the Thunder can get the usual production from a healthy Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka, the addition of shooter Dion Waiters may be enough to transform the usual top-seeded Thunder into a finals contender. 
POSTSRCIPT
Amare Stoudemire and the Knicks agreed to a buyout during the All-Star Game. What does this mean for the former All-Star big man? With a host of injury problems that could limit his time on the court, retirement may be an option for the power forward. But I believe Stoudemire still has some years of production left in the tank. Look for Stoudemire to sign with a playoff contender, perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers, who will be without Blake Griffin for a period of time after he had surgery to remove a staph infection, or perhaps a reunion with the team that drafted him, the Phoenix Suns, who have enough cap room, and can use a offensively gifted four to play minutes off the bench for them. 
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