It's here!

The NBA All-Star Weekend is finally upon us. After weeks of blue and red promotions and more Blake Griffin dunk contest hype, the 3-day weekend that marks the midpoint if the NBA season is here. The first half has been a memorable semester, with the Miami Heat debuting their new big three, the San Antonio Spurs got their 10th loss on the final day before the break, and the Celtics, Mavericks, and Magic have remained elite teams among injuries and roster changes, respectively.

The Spurs sit atop the Western Conference at 46-10, with the Celtics leading the East at 40-14. The Mavericks and Heat occupy the #2 slot in both conferences, while the defending champion Lakers and rising Chicago Bulls stand pat in the #3 spot.

The top MVP candidates consist of Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Dirk Nowitzki. Amare Stoudemire had returned the New York Knicks to the playoff race in his first year with the team. Fellow first-year teammate Raymond Felton has been performing at an All-Star level as well, but only Amare will represent the team in the All-Star game. The Hawks remain a competitive bunch, and Portland, New Orleans, Denver, Utah, and Memphis round out the +.500 teams.

The West has once again proved to be the superior conference of the two. The East only has 5 teams over .500 while the West has nine teams that are at least even .500. (9. Phoenix, 27-27; won 7 of their last 10)

However, there are many improved teams out East. Charlotte and Indiana are competing for a playoff spot, and teams like Milwaukee and New Jersey have shown signs of improvement, despite losing records.

So much is up in the air, but at least there is a brief relaxation period for players and coaches as they enjoy the luxuries of Los Angeles during All-Star Weekend 2011.

However, team executives take no time off. In fact, this is the weekend to work harder than ever for most general managers and owners, as they try to strike a deal before the trading deadline next Thursday. I was actually at the Celebrity All-Star Game last year when the Dallas Convention Center hosted the event, when behind me I overheard a group of men in their late 20’s enthusiastically commenting on a potential deal that had just got down. Hesitant to believe at first that the Mavericks had struck a deal with the Washington Wizards, acquiring Butler, Haywood, and Stevenson, I later found out it was indeed true, and It just shows that the front office of an NBA team never stops working, especially All-Star Weekend, when the rest of the league’s personnel takes a much-needed break from their everyday jobs of being an NBA player or coach, etc.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge:

Competitors: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall

This is quite a class of ball handlers for the Taco Bell Skills Challenge at the All-Star festivities on All-Star Saturday Night. All five are young, all-star talent point guards. Rose, Westbrook , and Paul will be on Sunday’s all-star rosters.

Pick: Chris Paul

Ultimate competitor, best Point Guard in the league in my opinion.

Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout

Competitors: Ray Allen, James Jones, Dorrell Wright, James Jones, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, Kevin Durant, Defending Champion Paul Pierce

The 3-Point Shootout is actually my personal favorite, but I’m sad to see this year’s contest without a representative from the Mavericks. Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki have both competed in past years, and I would think a full first-half, and a healthy one, with Dallas would result in Peja Stojakovic being in the contest. Paul Pierce returns to the contest as the defending champion, but teammate Ray Allen joins the action this year, along with 6 others.

Pick: Daniel “Boobie” Gibson.

Too much has gone wrong for Cleveland this year, how about a little right? And not Dorrell Wright.J

Sprite Slam Dunk Contest:

Competitors: Blake Griffin, Javale McGee, Serge Ibaka, Demar Derozan.

Everyone in the NBA, from owners to fans to the person who sold you that t-shirt in the stadium gift shop last November, is awaiting the fantastic display that should be in store for us when Blake Griffin competes in the Dunk Contest Saturday Night. New this year is a “Dunk Mentor,” each participant will have a mentor, they can be found here.

Pick: Blake Griffin.

Crowd favorite, electric, creative.

And for the record, I will pick Team Texas for the Hair Shooting Stars Competition. (Kenny Smith – former Houston Rocket, Roneeka Hodges, San Antonio Silver Stars WNBA player, and hometown Maverick, all-star forward Dirk Nowitzki.

ALL-STAR GAME PICK: Western Conference 138-125

MVP: Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

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