SALT LAKE CITY – The fans in Salt Lake City used to serenade Donovan Mitchell with “MVP” chants when he played for the Utah Jazz, a sign of their appreciation and respect.
He plays for Cleveland now. But he wouldn’t mind hearing those cries again Sunday.
The 72nd NBA All-Star Game is Sunday night with almost all of the league’s biggest names set to take part in Utah.
Captains LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will pick their teams before the game, leaving Team LeBron coach Michael Malone of the Denver Nuggets and Team Giannis coach Joe Mazzulla of the Boston Celtics about five minutes to come up with an actual game plan.
“It never gets old,” Antetokounmpo said Saturday. “Every day, every time I step to my locker and I see my jersey with my name and I’m around all these great players, which are the best players in the world, it’s always a great feeling. I never take it for granted. God has blessed me enough to be seven times an All-Star so far, and this might be my last one, so I try to enjoy to the fullest and appreciate every moment with the best players in the world.”
And most of the best are indeed in Salt Lake City.
There's James, who just passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's leading scorer. There’s Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, currently No. 1 and No. 2 in the NBA scoring race, both of them just over 33 points per game. Antetokounmpo and James also are averaging at least 30 points, as are Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Boston’s Jayson Tatum.
“It’s always great just being out here with these guys, honestly," DeMar DeRozan of the Chicago Bulls said. “I look forward to just being able to compete. You know, we go against all these guys all season, so just to kind of detach and play with these guys is definitely an honor."
James will be honored at halftime with a ceremony to celebrate his passing Abdul-Jabbar for the scoring record.
“I think he’s probably going to slow down whenever he wants to slow down," Toronto All-Star forward Pascal Siakam said. “It feels like he can play forever. It looks like it."
There's never any real defense in these games until the fourth quarter, when players get serious, and there inevitably will be a bunch of them scoring a bunch of points. After all, that's been a trend this season: 20 times a player has scored 50 points in a game, a list topped by Mitchell scoring 71 for the Cavaliers against Chicago on Jan. 2.
He isn't flat-out going for the MVP, but acknowledged that he's thought about it.
“That would be nice," Mitchell said. “I’m not going to try and shoot every shot, but close to every shot. Just have fun. That’s the biggest thing is kind of going into these spaces and really appreciating the moment. It’d be great to win MVP. I’ve had a lot of full-circle moments this year. That would be another one.”
The first three quarters can be considered mini-games, with the score starting at zero — but with the total score is still tracked because it comes into play later. The winning team in each quarter gets $100,000 for their charity; if the quarter is a tie, that money gets split.
In the fourth quarter, the total score from the first three quarters becomes the score again. The final target score will be the leading team’s score to that point plus 24 points. There’s no game clock, but there is a shot clock.
The winning team reaches the target score first. If the score is Team LeBron 100, Team Giannis 99 entering the fourth, the winning score would be 124. The winning team also picks up another $150,000 for its charity.
The MVP award is named for Kobe Bryant, and there will be a new winner this year. Last year’s MVP, Golden State guard Stephen Curry, was voted into the game as a starter but is out with an injury.
Antetokounmpo was MVP in 2021 and James has been All-Star MVP three times, most recently in 2018. The only other past MVP in this year’s game is Kyrie Irving, the 2014 winner.
WELCOME TO THE SHOW
There are six players in the All-Star Game who’ll be making their debut: Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr., and — last but certainly not least to Jazz fans — Utah’s Lauri Markkanen.
With those six names, there are now been 450 All-Stars in NBA history.
If Antetokounmpo scores 26 points Sunday, that would put him at 200 for his career in All-Star Games.
Only 10 other players have scored that many in their combined All-Star appearances: James, Bryant, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Durant, Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Elgin Baylor and Shaquille O’Neal.
Antetokounmpo has averaged 29 points in his six previous All-Star Games — the most in NBA history for those who have appeared in at least three games.
BACK IN UTAH
Salt Lake City becomes the 19th city (or region) to play host to multiple All-Star Games. The Jazz also had the NBA’s midseason showcase in 1993.
Indianapolis joins that list next year when it plays host to the weekend’s events. It’ll be the first time that the Pacers’ home city has been the All-Star site since 1985.
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