We’ll get to All-Star Weekend in a minute, but first, I have a question: Did you see Andrew Wiggins dunk the ghost out of Nikola Jokic’s body on Wednesday night? Here’s the video. You don’t need to see it, though. You just need three stills from it. The first is Jokic when he realizes Wiggins is about to turn his All-Star break into a three-day You Got Dunked On joke-a-thon. Look:
I’ve never seen someone make that face and then have a good thing happen to him or her afterward. That’s the face you make when you’re about to get hit by a car, or attacked by a lion, or I guess attacked by a Timberwolf, in this case.
The second still is of a little girl in the stands after the dunk. Wiggins dunked on Jokic so hard that this poor little girl got lockjaw:
We watch these games and see these big dunks and they’re always so much fun, but we never really think about the children in the stands. I hope her lockjaw heals quickly. I hope she’s not stuck like that forever. That would be terrible. I hope Wiggins sends her family a thoughtful apology card.
The third still is of the dunk itself:
Don’t focus on Wiggins, though. And don’t focus on Jokic. Look up in the corner. That’s Nemanja Bjelica, the Timberwolves’ second-year forward from Serbia. I love that he saw this monster dunk unfolding and was like, “Andrew, I’m open,” like Bill Murray in Space Jam when Jordan was doing his stretch dunk. I respect that so much. Bjelica is going to be a star in this league. And if not that, I know he’s at least going to be ready when someone passes him the ball.
The whole Wiggins-vs.-Jokic play was great, and gross, and very disrespectful, and beautiful. It was a perfect exclamation point on the first half of the season.
But now All-Star Weekend is here. Let’s do the NB(Q&)A thing for it. Eight questions, eight answers.
How sad is it that Joel Embiid isn’t participating in any of the events this weekend?
It’s very sad. No player this season has felt as perfectly built for flourishing during All-Star Weekend as Joel Embiid. Remember how great it was last year when they had the Bigs battling the Smalls in the Skills Challenge and Karl-Anthony Towns upset Isaiah Thomas in the finals and all of the bigs went yo-yo celebrating with him:
I wanted a moment like that again desperately. More than that, I wanted Embiid to give it to us, because of course it was going to be Embiid. He’s smart, he’s outgoing, he’s charming, he’s funny, he’s fun. But he’s injured, so he’s out. It’s devastating.
Who wins the dunk contest?
The same guy who truly won it last year (with respect to my beloved Zach LaVine):
Give Aaron Gordon his trophy.
Speaking of Zach LaVine, can we talk for a moment about how crushing it was earlier this month when he tore his ACL? He’s one of your favorite players — one of your “guys.” And he’s a fabulous All-Star Weekend character, isn’t he? More heavily, though, can we talk about how this is going to affect his role in the forward movement of the Timberwolves, which was already a tiny bit dicey? Can we talk about how such a large part of his game was built around his athleticism, and now there are concerns that that part may be gone forever? Can we talk about how, even in the very best case, which is (a) the Timberwolves deciding he’s a vital piece of what they’re building and keeping him, and (b) his being able to return all the way back to his original pre-injury nuclear glittering, it’s still going to be at least a full year before we get to see him play basketball again?
No. No, we cannot talk about any of that.
Who wins the 3-point contest?
They put together such a wonderful field for this one. Let’s run through all the names:
- Klay Thompson: For all of Steph Curry’s shooting brilliance, it’s Klay Thompson who is (or should be, at least) the most feared shooter in the league. Nobody goes from Zero to Lava-Hot as quickly and violently as he does. And still, no matter the feat, no matter the accomplishment, it’s Steph who gets the accolades. It was Klay who set the NBA record by putting up 37 points in the third quarter of a January game against the Kings in 2015, shooting 100 percent from the field and the free throw line. It was Klay who went atomic at the end of OKC-GSW’s historic Game 6 last season, ultimately splitting apart Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant with his fury ax. If he hits his first two shots, he’s burning that whole goddamn arena to the ground with his flamethrower after that. It’d be dope to see him win (again), because he deserves that recognition.
- C.J. McCollum: Did you know that McCollum and Damian Lillard are the third-highest-scoring duo in the league behind Steph + Durant and LeBron + Kyrie? Did you also know that the Trail Blazers have won only 23 NBA games this season, which is just 23 NBA games more than I have won this season, which is not a good stat for them?
- Kemba Walker: I’m so happy for people to find out that Kemba Walker is in the league.
- Wesley Matthews: My greatest hope is that Wes does his bow-and-arrow celebration after every 3 he makes. It’s the premier 3-point celebration in the NBA right now. Sometimes I do it in my normal life, like when I order tacos.
- Kyle Lowry: It’d be great to see Kyle Lowry win because if Kyle Lowry wins then that’s the same as DeMar DeRoZaN WinNiNG, aNd I doN’T liKE HoW ManY CaPiTaL LeTTeRs aRe in DeMaR’s naME, bUT I LIKe eveRYthiNg ElSE abOuT HiM.
- Eric Gordon: This season’s Eric Gordon Renaissance Tour has been fantastic. Here’s a fun stat: Gordon already has 141 more 3-point attempts through THE FIRST HALF OF THIS SEASON than he’s had in any full season in his career. I can’t wait to watch him in the Western Conference finals this year when the Rockets and the Warriors play and he averages 14 3-point attempts per game.
- Kyrie Irving: Remember when Kyrie was drinking with his shirt off during the Cavs championship parade? OK, so what I need to happen in the 3-point contest is for J.R. Smith to spend the whole afternoon in Kyrie’s ear pumping him full of arrogance and bravado. And then when it’s Kyrie’s turn to shoot, J.R. has to ask the officials to move all the ball racks so Kyrie can shoot from the same spot where he hit his Game 7 megashot. That’s gotta be the next play in this season’s Cavs-Warriors Petty War.
- Nick Young: Nick Young winning the 3-point contest would be no less startling and revelatory than Nick Young winning a Pulitzer.
But so who wins? It’s Klay. Dark-horse pick: Wesley Matthews.
Can we do the real questions now? The three most important questions?
Will the reunion of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the West’s All-Star team be the beginning of the end of their rivalry?
I hope not (because their rivalry has been so much fun to talk about and think about this season) and I also don’t think so (because Russell Westbrook does not seem like the Quick To Forgive type). I think (hope) we’re just getting to the rocky part of it.
Well, what about this: If they end up on the court together, will Westbrook at least pass the ball to Durant?
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Man. Their Broken Brotherhood story line, previously unacknowledged by the two, really turned electric in that last GSW-OKC game, didn’t it? It was so exciting to see it finally happen.
There was that early-game shove when Durant tried to screen Westbrook. There was the shouting match they got into during the third-quarter timeout when Westbrook was shouting “I’m comin’! I’m comin’! I’m comin’!” at Durant as Durant responded with something close to “You’re gonna lose,” which is just about the best example of the philosophical difference between the two that I can think of. There was Durant going literally head-to-head with Andre Roberson. And then there was the Westbrook-Durant jump ball that, I mean, come on, will there be a more spiritually meaningful moment for OKC fans this season than Westbrook winning that jump ball against Durant?*
[*The only way it gets topped is if OKC ends up somehow beating the Warriors in the playoffs, which would be a truly miraculous and beautiful moment, or, short of that, if the Warriors somehow end up not winning the title this year. Neither of those things seems very likely, though, so let’s go ahead and add The Jump Ball to all the Oklahoma City schools’ history textbooks.]
But so the answer here is: no. I think we’ll see Westbrook pick up the basketball and eat it before we see Westbrook pick up the basketball and pass it to Kevin Durant. (On the off chance that he does pass it to him, I would guess it’d very much be like the way that Ben Affleck passed Casey Affleck his double burger in that “Here’s your fucking double burger!” scene from Good Will Hunting.)
OK, how about the inverse: If they end up on the court together, will Durant pass the ball to Westbrook?
This seems far more likely. What also seems likely, though, is that Westbrook decides that in addition to his Passing To Kevin Durant embargo, he also enacts a Receiving Passes From Kevin Durant embargo and refuses to catch the ball when KD throws it to him on some Eww, The Ball Has KowarD Cooties shit.* I’m not sure, though. The only thing I’m sure of is that we are all indebted to Westbrook and Durant for making “Will [person] pass [person] the ball?” a genuinely interesting and important question. Could the separation of any two other players in the NBA have generated anything like this?
[*I’m realizing as I write this that maybe the ultimate anti-KD move for Westbrook would be for him to excitedly and cheerfully pass the ball to KD every single time he got it. That’d be so funny. Of course, I’m also realizing as I write this realization footnote that the ultimate anti-KD move wouldn’t actually be that. It’d be something else that only Westbrook, the angriest genius, could think of. I mean, who could’ve predicted that he’d show up to his first game at Oracle dressed as a photographer, or that he’d show up to KD’s first game in OKC dressed as Willie Beamen? Nobody, that’s who. Only Westbrook.]
All these questions and answers might prove to be completely wrong (unlikely). Or they might prove to be completely right (highly unlikely). Either way, All-Star Weekend is here. Let’s find some answers.