By Justin Boylan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – All-Star games aren’t actually games at all. They’re non-competitive, effortless demonstrations of what professional sports are like in the Bizarro World.
We watch sports to see the finest athletes compete at the highest level. To have one without the other, well that’s like going out to dinner and never being served the main course. You are left unfulfilled.
Fans of the Philadelphia 76ers are more than familiar with that feeling. The team presented the city with a promising menu before the season, and halfway through we are still sitting around waiting to be fed. At the break, the Sixers are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and only the Washington Wizards score fewer points per game.
So as hard as it is for me to endorse an exhibition game, in this case, NBA All-Star Sunday served as a friendly reminder that as the season moves forward, great basketball is happening outside of Philadelphia. And you’d be a fool to miss it.
Sixers basketball can be a turnoff for the casual fan that believes this team is a direct reflection of the league, which isn’t true. There are teams and players, besides LeBron James, setting the bar as high as it’s ever been.
Kevin Durant is enjoying one of the best seasons ever for a player that won’t win the league MVP. He is averaging 29 points per game, while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three. Only Larry Bird in 1987-88 has sustained those numbers over the course of a season. Durant is an assassin from any spot on the floor, and could probably outscore the Sixers by himself if given a Chamberlain-amount of attempts.
Sunday night’s MVP, Chris Paul, showed why he has led the Clippers to 14 more wins than their big-brother Lakers. Whether up-tempo or in a half court set, Paul controls the pace of every game. He’s putting up 4.5 assists per turnover, best in the NBA, and is on pace to lead the league in steals for the third straight year, which is something only Allen Iverson has done.
The San Antonio Spurs are quietly a few weeks away from another 50-win season. It would be the team’s 14th straight year with at least 50 wins, an amazing streak that is due in large part to the greatest power forward of all-time who happens to still be playing, Tim Duncan. The Showtime Lakers had a similar streak of consistent winning, but couldn’t get past 12 seasons in a row.
I hardly ever know what to expect before a Sixers game starts, and this season watching has felt more like work than a fun, relaxing pastime. At least when the All-Star game comes on you know exactly what you’re getting. The score will be ridiculous and the fourth quarter will be a better dunk contest than the one they held Saturday night. The Sixers pride themselves in playing tough defense, but lack efficient scoring. The NBA All-Star game is the exact opposite, which made it a refreshing change of pace.
Above all else, it’s a chance familiarize yourself, if you haven’t already, with the standout players with a realistic shot at competing for a championship come playoff time, including the few already mentioned. King James always demands the most attention on the court, but the All-Star game gave us a closer look at his Eastern teammates and Western competition, all of whom are gunning for his crown while he looks to defend it.
The Sixers might be able to ruin your night here or there with a bad loss, but they shouldn’t ruin what so far has been another great season of basketball. As Sixers fans, we constantly wear ourselves down by asking the same questions about the same players, and hardly ever get answers. The NBA is much kinder in that respect.
Can any team, the Knicks or the Pacers, slow down the Heat’s run to the Finals? Can the Spurs make it back one more time with Tim Duncan, or is Oklahoma City once again the postseason mountain they can’t climb? Are the Clippers really ready to take over Los Angeles and contend for a title? These are questions worth asking because, unlike the uncertainty surrounding a knee injury, answers are guaranteed.
Justin Boylan is a producer at 94WIP and graduate of Temple University. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @justintboylan.