STATESIDE: An NBA All-Star cast but the show is falling way flat

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No protection: Anthony Davis gets to the rim during his record haul of 52 points.

Who wants to watch an NBA training session? Well, simply find a repeat of the All-Star game, kick back and experience the best basketball players going through the paces ad nauseum.

The annual jamboree is supposed to be fun, a welcome respite in the middle of a mentally tiring and physically demanding season. Everyone is smiling. Fans woo their heroes. It’s backslap and high five central.

The All-Star concept is a nice one – the general public voting for who they want to be representing the East and West. Imagine if La Liga or the Premier League did something similar. It’d be great.

Though that’s unfortunately where the interest ends because the action – if you can call it that – is so uncompetitive it makes me shooting hoops against my 18-month-old daughter in the garden seem all blood, guts and thunder.

There’s zero defense. Barely a sweat broken. Just a shedload of crazy dunk attempts and Steph Curry aiming to hit three pointers from so far downtown he’s in the suburbs.

Yes, it’s great for the crowd – in this case the good people of New Orleans – and those watching at home to see LeBron James, Curry, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade Carmelo Anthony et al share some court time.

Yet give it five minutes of everyone ambling around like lost puppies who’d rather be snuggled up at home and you’ll soon lose interest.

For the record, and because everyone has already forgotten, the final score was 192-182 to the West. The MVP was Anthony Davis, the only New Orleans Pelican on show and owner of 52 points. Fancy that.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Davis. For you maybe, but what about the poor souls who paid decent money to witness a glorified game of ‘you score, I score.’

Stephen Curry.

Stephen Curry.

Davis’ tally smashed Wilt Chamberlain’s 55-year-old record of 42 though I bet the Philadelphia legend played in clashes which were unrecognisable to the nonsense served up last weekend. Indeed, these games used to be competitive.

Players of a different era were more physical, less friendly and intent on making a mark. In 1987, Hakeem Olajuwon was, incredible to think, fouled out of the game. Would that have happened this time around?

At halftime, no player had more than one foul to his name. The result? There were 189 points scored. Why bother with opponents? Where was the aggression and dynamism on show every night in the NBA?

Well, unfortunately, it has been shut away in the locker since the time in 2012 when Wade smashed Kobe Bryant’s nose. No one wants to see players injured ahead of the crucial final run-in and being named as an All-Star is certainly a great honour.

Few expect a wild, hell for leather encounter. But something needs to be done. Personally, I believe the most interesting action precedes the main event.

Saturday night’s festivities include the skills challenge as well as the three point and slam dunk challenge. Admittedly, it all fell a bit flat this year. The dunking was awful while the shooting lacked serious drama.

At least, however, it’s something different – players seem to take it reasonably seriously as the spotlight burns on their particular skills set.

There are so many matches across the season, who needs another one? NBA bosses surely have to mix everything up. Perhaps just play two halves and put the dunking and three point competitions in between.

Maybe decree that the winners will ensure home court advantage for the Championship finals. That’s been used, admittedly controversially, in baseball for the last few years.

If, for example, the American League wins, their representative will get four World Series home games instead of three.

It’s a dodgy concept with more than a few flaws but there were enough players on show from the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and other teams sure to be fighting it out at the end of the season to make that a viable option.

What else? Double the pay packets on offer to the victors? USA v the Rest of the World? LeBron v Steph in a cage match? Stage it in the pre-season? Don’t stage it at all? Do something. Anything. The best in the world are on show yet the end product is meaningless.

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NBA Podcast: DeMarcus Cousins trade and NBA All-Stars

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After a so-called winter’s break, our NBA Podcast team have returned just at the right time to discuss the biggest and unexpected trade moves, play-offs and what they really made of the All-Stars fixture.

Cult 1980s film ‘The Running Man’ also gets a mention in our Podcast!

Why? We here you ask.

Well, listen and find out. Tune in!

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

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STATESIDE: University of Connecticut continue astonishing 101 game unbeaten run

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The UConn team have beaten 98 of the 101 teams by 10 points or more.

The doubters wasted little time before raining on the University of Connecticut’s glorious parade. UConn’s women’s basketball stars are glowing with pride after their win over South Carolina made it a quite astonishing 101 wins in a row.

Forget about the sport itself and digest the numbers. Think about how difficult a streak like that is to maintain. Some miserable folk greeted the news with raised eyebrows before muttering about inferior competitions. ‘Yes, but it’s only women’s basketball,’ they said.

Correct. Though holding everything together for such a long period of time – UConn last lost a match on November 17 2014 – is truly remarkable. In any sporting team there are myriad variables needed to achieve something even close to this.

You need luck. Injuries, officiating, dips in form – these are all aspects of team life which can destroy dreams. The history books, however, certainly don’t lie.

There hasn’t been a college or pro team in US sports who have come anywhere close.

This magical run surpasses the New York Giants (1916, 26 games), LA Lakers (33 games, 1972), the Pittsburgh Penguins (17 games, 1993), and the New England Patriots (18 games, 2008). It’s the greatest college streak ever.

When it comes to making a statement about women’s sport, it couldn’t be more emphatic.

“We can do whatever we put our minds to,” said guard Crystal Dangerfield.

While coach Geno Auriemma has rightly been offered a share of the spoils – the meticulous trainer and tactician once spent three weeks constantly drilling his team over one offensive play until they nailed it – the truth is this year’s team were severely hamstrung.

Three starters – Breanna Stewart along with Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck – went to the WNBA yet the girls who stepped in rose to the challenge and proved the programme’s strength in depth really is something else.

This isn’t a team who have bullied opponents with brute strength either. Cohesive forward play and intelligent defence have been key.

Massive beatings have been dished out – 98 of 101 teams have been beaten by 10 or more points, 25 triumphs have been sealed with over a 50 point cushion (the average winning margin is 38.4.)

But does their utter dominance turn people off? Last Monday’s contest was the highest-rated college game on ESPN2 this season, and also pulled in the best figures for a regular season women’s game for seven years.

Auriemma, who has led Team USA to consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016, and his coaching staff have built something special, taking advantage of four year scholarships at the university.

“You figure it out right away,” UConn. guard Kia Nurse said. “And I think it’s the way the vets teach you how we do every drill, how we lift, how we work out. And the importance of each little detail in what we do. That’s something that you learn right away.”

Saturday night’s win over Tulane moves them a step forward to landing a 12th NCAA championship.

“If this would have been done by last year’s team, I think it would have been less heroic because it would have been, ‘Well of course they are supposed to do it. Look who they have,’ ” said Auriemma, who stressed in pre-season that thinking about going unbeaten wasn’t ‘in the real world.’

“We don’t have a magic formula. We don’t go into a lab and conjure up and mix up things and come up with Young Frankenstein. Unless you are in our locker room every day, at our practice every day, and go through what these kids go through and what they put up with every day from us as a coaching staff, it is impossible to explain.”

This isn’t, however, a rags to riches story. UConn have pumped millions of dollars into their sporting programmes in pursuit of such excellence. And revelations about Auriemma’s new $13 million, five-year deal prove as much.

The 62-year-old Italian born American is the best-paid coach in women’s college sport after penning a new contract. When you’ve landed 11 NCAA titles, it’s no wonder the big bucks are being dished out and such is his standing, it’s also written into the contract that a $400,000 a-year salaried position somewhere in the sports department is guaranteed should he resign or retire in good standing after the 2020-21 season.

A job for life thanks to the streak of a lifetime.

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