PREVIEW: 2021 NBA All-Star Game pits Team LeBron vs. Team Durant

Mar 4, 2021; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo warms up prior to the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo just finished a game in Memphis Thursday night and was being quizzed about LeBron James being his teammate in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.

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

“That’s the starting five? Yeah, it’s over, guys,” Antetokounmpo 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 Sunday in Atlanta.

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Giannis praises LeBron ahead of NBA All-Star Game

Antetokounmpo, the two-time reigning league 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,” Antetokounmpo said regarding James. “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 and hope I can help him get a win.”

Of course, 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 coming off the bench.

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NBA All-Star Game: Team captain Kevin Durant won’t play

NBA All-Star Game: Team captain Kevin Durant won't play
Feb 23, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets power forward Kevin Durant (7) warms up before a game against the Sacramento Kings at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant’s roster isn’t 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 with a hamstring injury. Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics replaced Durant as a starter and is also on Team Durant. 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 3-pointers and scored 30 points.

Durant said prior to Wednesday’s draft (which was televised Thursday by TNT) that he didn’t 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,” Durant 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 Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls) and Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz) off the bench.

Embiid is mentioned in the MVP chatter, and he is looking forward to the contest.

“I can never take those occasions for granted,” Embiid told reporters. “It’s a great feeling to be part of the best players in the world. I’m just looking to go out there, stay safe — first thing — and just have fun in the best game in basketball.”

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NBA All-Star Game: Key matchup between coaches Quin Snyder and Doc Rivers

NBA All-Star Game: Key matchup between coaches Quin Snyder and Doc Rivers
Feb 9, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder yells to his players during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

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

Snyder coaching James’ team has an ironic feel after James expressed that Utah stars Mitchell and Rudy Gobert (Team James) were the last two picks because: “You guys have to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah.”

James explained his rationale for putting together a team.

“I just try to pick players that can complement one another,” James said. “When we’re on the floor, we’ll try to play the game the right way. It’s the All-Star Game, so there’s going to be some shenanigans out there. But for the majority of the game, we’re going to try to play the right way and come out with a win.”

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

All-Star weekend has been condensed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the Slam Dunk contest will take place at halftime. The Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest will be held prior to the game.

This is the third time the All-Star Game has been held in Atlanta (1978, 2003).

–Field Level Media