NBA All-Star 2011: East or West?

The 2011 NBA All-Star weekend will come to closure tonight after the 60th edition of the NBA All-Star game: the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference.

The Chicago Bulls will have one participant in tonight's festivities, Derrick Rose, and he will start for the East. Joining him in the back-court will be Dwyane Wade (HEAT), and in the front-court it will be LeBron James (HEAT), Amar'e Stoudemire (Knicks), and Dwight Howard (Magic).

For the West, it will be Chris Paul (Hornets) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers) in the back-court, with Kevin Durant (Thunder), Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets), and Tim Duncan (Spurs) in the front-court.

Each team will have 7 reserves. For the East it will be the Boston Celtics' big-four, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, along with Chris Bosh (HEAT), Joe Johnson (Hawks), and Al Horford (Hawks).

The West's bench will consist of Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Pau Gasol (Lakers), Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks), Deron Williams (Jazz), and three first-time All-Stars, Blake Griffin (Clippers), Kevin Love (Timberwolves), and Russell Westbrook (Thunder). 

Since 2000, the West has beaten the East in 6 of the 11 matchups, but the East won last season 141-139 with the MVP going to Wade.

Who will win it this year? Which conference has the better team?

Let's take a look at both of those questions and more:  
Starters (Note: this is for the All-Star game, not regular season or comparing two players' career)
PG: Derrick Rose vs. Chris Paul
Edge: Paul
Rose, playing in his 2nd All-Star game, is the NBA MVP if the season ended today, and has done a great job leading the Bulls on the court.

With all that said, in an exhibition match with a bunch of highlight dunks, alley-oops, and a fast pace, Paul has the slight advantage. For one, it's simply an exhibition; Paul has the ball handling to excel in the All-Star game and pile up the assists.

It's not the case of Rose not showing up in exhibition games like these, but historically, he just doesn't have the same dominating effect on games like he does for the Bulls. He's much more laid-back, and passes the ball much more frequently.

In the Olympic World Tournament this summer, Rose did a good job controlling the pace of games, but he just didn't have the same mindset as he does with the Bulls, because, well, he doesn't have to be the MVP of a team with plenty of stars. Tonight will be no different.

Rose is the better of the two this season and going forward, but in an All-Star game setting, Paul, playing in his 4th All-Star game, will likely out-do Rose and pile up plenty of assists.

SG: Dwyane Wade vs. Kobe Bryant
Edge: Wade
Bryant is playing in his 13th All-Star game, and he's won MVP of the event 3 times (2002, 2007, and 2009).

There's a chance Bryant comes to play tonight to join Bob Pettit in the leader of All-Star game MVP's at 4, but there's a much greater chance that he just relaxes and takes it easy.

Bryant doesn't have much to prove in the All-Star game, and usually veterans like him go through the motions, laugh and have fun on the sidelines.

Wade won the MVP of the All-Star game in Dallas last season, with 28 points and 11 assists. Athletic players like him thrive in the All-Star game; Bryant is still athletic, but he's aging and Wade is clearly one of the most explosive players in the open court in the NBA.

SF: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
Edge: James
James is playing in his 7th All-Star game and has done very well each year. Meanwhile, Durant is playing in his 2nd, first year starting.

James, who has dealt with plenty of criticism during the offseason and during the season, has a chip on his shoulder that will lead to a dominant performance in the All-Star game.

James is the predicted MVP award winner (of the All-Star game), and as much as Durant seems suited for this game, it's not his year, and it's possible that James takes Durant out of the game by actually playing defense.

Durant can shoot the ball and has the athletic ability to run up-and-down the court in an exhibition game like this, but James has shown in years past that he runs the show in events like these. Give me James for the MVP tonight.

PF: Amar'e Stoudemire vs. Carmelo Anthony
Edge: Stoudemire
Anthony is dealing with plenty of drama off-the-court, with his impeding decision on where to sign an extension, but that could either hurt him tremendously or help him by putting a chip on his shoulder, making this the final hoo-rah for himself in a Nuggets uniform (representing the Nuggets).

Stoudemire will be playing in his 6th All-Star game, first with the Eastern Conference. 8 of his 9 seasons in the NBA are with the Phoenix Suns, but he came to the New York Knicks via free agency this past offseason.

In a game with plenty of alley-oops and dunks, this is a game that Stoudemire will flourish in. Anthony will get his double-digit points, but Stoudemire will have the highlight reel plays and rebounds to give him the edge tonight.

The saying in baseball is that the ladies love the long ball; well, in basketball, the fans love the dunks. Something Stoudemire will certainly provide tonight.

C: Dwight Howard vs. Tim Duncan
Edge: Howard
Duncan will go down as arguably the best big-man to play, and one of the best players in NBA history, but Howard is worlds above him at this point.

This is the easiest of the picks, as Howard is a young buck and Duncan is an old-man playing in such a high paced, up-and-down game.

Also, it doesn't help that Duncan's coach, Gregg Popovich, is the West coach, too, meaning limited minutes for the 34-year-old.

Bench
Guards: Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, and Ray Allen vs. Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, and Manu Ginobili
Edge: West
The Western Conference clearly has the better guards coming off the bench. Quite frankly, each West guard is better than his counterpart, Williams over Rondo, Westbrook over Johnson, and Ginobili over Allen.

Rose is the NBA MVP leader right now, but each member of the West's reserve guards has a case of being the MVP this season, albeit a bad one; can't say that about the East's reserve guards.

Give me the West guards over the East's any day of the week.

Forwards: Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce vs. Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin
Edge: East
The West's reserve corps at forward are inexpierinced, with the exception of 10-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.

You don't know what you'll get from Love or Griffin, but each member of the East's forward reserves has played in the All-Star game multiple times and has had good success in the event.

However, in an exhibition match filled with dunks and alley-oops, Griffin could very well be the most impressive forward on the court tonight. But overall, the East has the edge in the forward reserves.

Center: Al Horford vs. Pau Gasol
Edge: West
Gasol is a 4-time All-Star, and Horford is playing in his 2nd All-Star game, so off experience alone, the edge goes to Gasol.

In addition, Gasol is one of the best big-men in the game today, and although he's not really classified as a center for his team, the Lakers, tonight he will likely see a bulk of time guarding Howard and Horford.

Give me Gasol over Horford, however, it wouldn't surprise me if Horford looks better than Gasol tonight because he'll be more comfortable his second time around.

Who will win tonight: East or West?
The Eastern Conference won 5 of the 8 head-to-head matchups in terms of the starters and bench players, and has the better overall team, so I'll take the East tonight over the West.

It will be a high-scoring affair tonight, but the East has a lot of talent and it wouldn't surprise me if they're blowing the West out by halftime.

Pick for MVP: LeBron James
To the chagrin of many Bulls fans, my pick for MVP tonight is James. He's won it twice before (2006 and 2008) and has a chip on his shoulder. This is one of the stages James can come out and impress for the NBA world.

James has been a nightly triple-double waiting to happen, and I predict he'll come close to it tonight.

Don't count Bryant out of it; he'll be going for his 4th All-Star game MVP and it would be yet another milestone for Bryant.

Tonight, though, I'll take James.

Final thoughts
The moment and night Bulls fans have been waiting for will finally come into fruition tonight, with Rose starting for the East in tonight's festivities.

It'll be interesting to see how he interacts with the fellow East All-Stars and even West All-Stars. It's a big step for the Bulls and his rise to stardom.   

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