To the victors go the spoils.
That certainly figures to be the case for the Eastern Conference in this year’s All-Star Game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics possess the top three records in the conference and are rightfully expected to comprise half of the 12-member East All-Star roster.
Cleveland is a cinch to have its “Big Three’’ of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love represented in the All-Star Game on Feb. 19 in New Orleans, either as a starter or reserve. Toronto will likely have two All-Stars in guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, while Boston’s little big man Isaiah Thomas appears to be New Orleans bound as well.
And three other players from Eastern Conference teams with winning records are virtual locks to be All-Stars: Milwaukee’s Giannnis Antetokounmpo, Indiana’s Paul George and Washington’s John Wall.
Yet, another team with a winning record – Charlotte – has another bona-fide All-Star candidate in Kemba Walker.
That brings our projected Eastern Conference All-Stars total to 10, with one of the two open spots likely going to Jimmy Butler, who is clearly one of the best players in the East even though the Bulls aren’t a winning team at 19-21.
So, who secures the last spot on the East? Will the Eastern Conference coaches, who vote for the seven reserves, reward the Atlanta Hawks, who have the fourth-best record in the East?
Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder (17.8 points and 6.3 assists) and forward Paul Millsap (17.6 points and 8.2 rebounds but shooting just 43 percent from the field) are the Hawks’ top candidates. Yet, while both Hawks are having good seasons, they aren’t having All-Star caliber ones.
The same can be said of perennial All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, whose teams also have sub .500 records. Wade is shooting just 43 percent from the field and 33 from 3-point range and Anthony is shooting a paltry 42 percent and 35 on treys. And we won’t talk about their defense, or lack thereof.
The battle for the final spot on the Eastern Conference team could come down to two potential stars – Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and New York’s Kristaps Porzingis.
Parker and Porzingis, who are both 21-year-old forwards, are enjoying outstanding seasons. Parker has a slight edge in the stats department: He is averaging 20.7 points, 5.6 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range, while Porzingis is averaging 19.4 points, 7.5 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent on treys.
Parker’s team has also fared better than Porzingis’ and he hasn’t missed a game while Porzingis has missed four and may miss more because of a sore left Achilles.
Here is how I filed out my All-Star ballot:
Backcourt: Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) and DeMar DeRozan (Toronto).
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cleveland), Kevin Love (Cleveland) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee).
Backcourt: John Wall (Washington) and Isaiah Thomas (Boston).
Frontcourt: Jimmy Butler (Chicago), Paul George (Indiana) and Jabari Parker (Milwaukee).
Additional players, regardless of position: Kyle Lowry (Toronto) and Kemba Walker (Charlotte).
Backcourt: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) and James Harden (Houston).
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Golden State), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) and Anthony Davis (New Orleans).
Backcourt: Steph Curry (Golden State) and Klay Thompson (Golden State).
Frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Gordon Hayward (Utah) and Marc Gasol (Memphis).
Additional players, regardless of postion: Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers) and Damian Lillard (Portland).
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL TENNESSEN