The Corner Three: All About the All-Star Break

ONE.

The new game format for the NBA All-Star game was a rousing success, as the league saw an 8% spike in viewership from last season with a peak of 8 million viewers when the game got the most interesting: the commercial-free fourth quarter that included the “Elam” ending.

It was undoubtedly a risk for the NBA to adopt the idea, promoted by Chris Paul, to remove the clock in the final quarter and instead set a “target score” to decide the winner. In this case, the target was 157 points, based on the +24 (in honor of Kobe Bryant) added to the score after three quarters.

Team Giannis led by nine after the third and in some cases in past all-star games, there wouldn’t be as much emphasis on winning as there was in showing out and one player going for the MVP. This time around, the competitive fire was lit and the result was a beautiful, aggressive and intense display of the game.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – FEBRUARY 16: LeBron James #2 of Team LeBron handles the ball while being guarded by Giannis Antetokounmpo #24 of Team Giannis in the fourth quarter during the 69th NBA All-Star Game at the United Center on February 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“None of us knew what to expect,” LeBron James said afterward. “But throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, “This is pretty damn fun.’”

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 16: LeBron James #2 celebrates during the 69th NBA All-Star Game on February 16, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The fourth quarter took 51 minutes to complete and yet no one was complaining. Once the game was tied at 146, everyone was on their feet. There were charges taken (two by Kyle Lowry!), there were defensive stops (defense!), there were coaches challenges and there was arguing with officials. Chris Paul and Frank Vogel both came extremely close to getting technical fouls.

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 16: Chris Paul #2 and LeBron James #2 of Team LeBron look on during the 69th NBA All-Star Game on February 16, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Can you imagine getting a tech in an all-star game?

The only complaint to make is the game ended on a free throw rather than a game-winning shot or play. Anthony Davis, the Chicago native, fittingly hit the free throw to get Team LeBron to 157. He said he purposely missed the first just to add a little drama.

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 16: Anthony Davis #2 of Team LeBron shoots the game winning free throw during the 69th NBA All-Star Game on February 16, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

But overall, the takeaway was the NBA got it right and, perhaps, saved the All-Star game and made it watchable again. In fact, it made it entertaining and, dare we say, must-watch.

What shouldn’t be done now is to take a cool novelty and try to find a way to use it more often. Nothing ruins a novelty more than oversaturation. Sure, games would go faster if the NBA made every game a “first to 100” type scenario with the first quarter break at 25, halftime at 50 and third quarter at 75. And while broadcasters would love that these games would fit neatly into a two-hour window, it would change a lot about the game that we love. The potential for a late rally would be eliminated, as would the potential for 40 and 50 point games (or more). Records would be much harder to break.

Yes, the Elam ending is perfect for the all-star game. It’s not perfect for any other version of the NBA game, however.

TWO.

LeBron James and the Lakers enter the final stretch of the NBA season as the favorites to win the championship. But the question that everyone is asking is if the 35-year-old superstar will have enough left in the tank to raise his fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy in June?

MIAMI, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 13: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against the Miami Heat during the second half at American Airlines Arena on December 13, 2019 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

LeBron has appeared in 51 of the 53 games so far this season, but the Lakers have been careful with the workload he has carried. He’s averaging 34.9 minutes per game, which is the lowest of his career. LeBron has spoken out about “load management” this season — which was something he engaged in while with the Heat and Cavs — and said he refuses to sit out games if he’s healthy.

The Lakers (41-12) have a four game lead over the Nuggets for the top spot in the West. But the team to watch is, of course, the Clippers, who sit 5 games back. The Clippers have had no problem utilizing “injury management” as a way to get Kawhi Leonard rest throughout the season. Paul George has appeared in only 34 games this season due to injuries and he went into the all-star break with a hamstring issue.

LOS ANGELES, CA – DECEMBER 17: Paul George #13 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers smile during the game against the Phoenix Suns on December 17, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Clippers seem to pose the biggest threat to the Lakers in the West and it seems inevitable the teams will face each other in the playoffs. When they do, it will likely feel like seven home games for the Lakers, but do the Clippers have the depth — they have the best bench in the game — to outlast them?

LeBron has Anthony Davis as a sidekick, but the difference in the Lakers with LeBron on the court versus off the court is astronomical. The Lakers are +435 when LeBron is on the court and -42 when he’s off.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 19: LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers wait for a free throw during the second half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv Forum on December 19, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

This is the case you make for him when debating his candidacy for MVP this season. But it’s also the case you make for why the Lakers may not be the team you put your money on to win the title.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are the second favorite to win the title (+275), with the Clippers third (+325).

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 02: Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks drives around Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at Fiserv Forum on December 02, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

When you consider the Bucks have far less of a challenge to get out of the East than the Lakers do to escape the West (especially after what expects to be an exhausting series with the Clippers), this might be the year for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

THREE.

If the Lakers clinch the top seed, who would you expect to be their first round opponent? Right now the upstart Memphis Grizzlies, led by Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant, holds the 8th spot and went into the break as hot as any team in the league.

MEMPHIS, TN – JANUARY 10: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs on January 10, 2020 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Wait, did I just say Rookie of the Year candidate? Don’t most people believe he’s a lock at this point?

Not yet. Why?

Zion Williamson.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 13: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 13, 2020 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

He’s only played 10 games, but in those 10 games he’s doing things that parallel what we’ve seen from the greats of the modern era. According to ESPN Stats & Info:

— He’s the first rookie to score at least 20 points in 8 of his first 10 games since Michael Jordan

— He’s the first rookie to average at least 20 points per game with 55% shooting in his first 10 games since Shaq.

— He’s the first rookie to have multiple 30-plus point performances in his first 10 games since Allen Iverson.

But here’s the issue: even if Zion plays in every game for the rest of the season, that will only be 37 games total. The fewest amount of games played by a Rookie of the Year winner was 50, by Patrick Ewing in 1985-86.

NEW YORK – 1985: Patrick Ewing #33 of the New York Knicks poses for a portrait with the Knicks General Manager Dave DeBusschere and NBA Commissioner David Stern during the 1985 NBA Draft at The Felt forum in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright NBAE 2002 (Photo by Noren Trotman/ NBAE/ Getty Images)

It might be tough to give the award to someone who plays in less than half of the games in a season, but what if that player made such an impact his team went from a lottery team to a playoff team?

New Orleans (23-32) is currently 5 ½ games behind the Grizzlies for the 8th spot in the West. There are two teams between them, including the Spurs and the Trail Blazers.

However, there is a very important statistic to consider before you count out Zion and the Pelicans. According to Tankathon.com, the Grizzlies have the toughest remaining schedule of any NBA team, facing a collective winning percentage of .554 in their final 28 games. That sounds like a challenge for a young team.

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 14: Zion Williamson #1, and Ja Morant #12 of Team USA hi-five each other against Team World during the 2020 NBA All-Star Rising Stars Game on February 14, 2020 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Spurs and Blazers have remaining schedules that are easier, with collective winning percentages that are below .500. And guess which team has the easiest schedule remaining out of the entire NBA?

The Pelicans.

So what if Zion keeps up his torrid statistical pace while leading the Pelicans to the playoffs? Wouldn’t he deserve Rookie of the Year consideration?

Of course he would.