Team Lebron V Team Durant

Today's All-Star Game set to feature clever playmaking and high-scoring performances

Bucks forward (above)
Bucks forward (above)PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
76ers centre (above)
76ers centre (above)PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Giannis Antetokounmpo just finished a game in Memphis on Thursday night and was being quizzed about LeBron James being his teammate in today's All-Star Game.

He answered affirmatively when asked if he wanted to know the rest of Team LeBron's starting line-up. He was told it was Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry.

"That's the starting five? Yeah, it's over, guys," he said. "Me, LeBron, Luka, Jokic and Steph? Man, that's a good starting five."

That powerhouse starting unit will attempt to help James improve to 4-0 as an All-Star Game captain when the showdown against Team Durant is held today in Atlanta.

Antetokounmpo, the two-time reigning league Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Milwaukee Bucks, and James, a four-time MVP, will be playing together for the first time since the 2017 showcase, when the then-22-year-old from Greece scored 30 points on 14-of-17 shooting while playing in his first All-Star Game.

Antetokounmpo is eager for the second occasion of playing with the Los Angeles Lakers star.

"He just makes plays," he said. "Most of the time you're just wide open, and I've never been used to that with somebody else creating the attention and me being wide open all the time. So, I've just got to do my job, make the right play, too, and do what I always do: Just play hard."

Having a backcourt of Curry (Golden State Warriors), Doncic (Dallas Mavericks) as well as pass-happy big man Jokic (Denver Nuggets) should provide a lot of opportunities for Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.3 points in four All-Star appearances.

Adding to the star power, Team LeBron also has an MVP-candidate in Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard on the bench.

Kevin Durant's roster is not quite as powerful but has a familiar ring to it with the selection of Nets teammates Kyrie Irving (starter) and James Harden (reserve).

Durant (hamstring) is sitting out the contest and will be replaced by starter Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics. The other starters are Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers) and NBA-scoring leader Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards.

Leonard was MVP of last season's game when he made eight three-pointers and scored 30 points.

Durant said before Wednesday's draft that he did not prepare for it and was making decisions based on his feel about skills and competitiveness.

He had first pick of the reserve pool and passed over Lillard.

"I mean, this is a pretty obvious pick," he said when announcing the selection. "He plays for the Brooklyn Nets - I'm going to go with James Harden."

Certainly, the Irving/Harden duo gives a high-scoring feel to Team Durant, who can also bring elite scorers Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls) and Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz) off the bench.

The Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker was to have been part of Team Durant, too, but a sprained left knee caused him to be replaced by the Jazz's Mike Conley, who finally became an All-Star at 33.

Embiid, who is averaging 30.2 points per game this season and is mentioned in the MVP chatter, is looking forward to the contest.

"It's a great feeling to be part of the best players in the world," he said. "I'm just looking to go out there and just have fun in the best game in basketball."

Embiid's coach with the 76ers, Doc Rivers, will lead Team Durant. Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder will guide Team LeBron.

The contest will use the Elam format for the second straight season. The game will be over once a team reach the target score, which will be 24 points more than what the leading team have after three quarters. The 24 was picked to honour the late Kobe Bryant.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 07, 2021, with the headline 'Team Lebron V Team Durant'. Subscribe