The NBA All-Star game is all set for Sunday, February 19th, in Salt Lake City, but what is not set this year are the actual teams.

For the sixth year in a row, the actual All-Star “starters”  are chosen by fans, media, and NBA players, and then All-Star reserves are picked by NBA coaches. The top vote-getter in each conference then “drafts” a team from among the All-Stars against the top vote-getter from the other conference.

This year’s top vote-getters were Giannis Antetokounmpo in the East and LeBron James in the West. LeBron has won his conference’s popular vote each year, first in the East in 2018 when he was still with the Cavaliers and every since in the West. Giannis won in 2019 and 2020 and now this season, with Kevin Durant taking it the past two seasons.

The twist in 2023 is that the All-Star “draft” will not happen until Sunday, right before the game, so we will not know who is on each team. Thus point spreads, which are a little tough to handicap in an exhibition game filled with all phenomenal players, will now not even exist until presumably just before game times.

For what it is worth, here are the scores of the five All-Star games under the current drafting system.

  • 2018: Team LeBron 148, Team Steph Curry 145
  • 2019: Team LeBron 178, Team Giannis 164
  • 2020: Team LeBron 157, Team Giannis 155
  • 2021: Team LeBron 170, Team Durant 150
  • 2022: Team LeBron 163, Team Durant 160

Perhaps Team LeBron should open as a small favorite, even without knowing who LeBron picks.

For people who like wagering, spread, and totals will go up, presumably close to tip-off. If you want to make use of Caesar’s sportsbook promo code, you can have a generous welcome bonus for the first timers, to mention; it does include a Win or lose and get up to 1000 Rewards Credits and 1000 Tier Credits, good ultimately towards perks such as more bet credits, merchandise, and meals and stays at Caesars worldwide properties.

Totals generate the most interest in NBA All-Star games, and there is a certainty here. No one will play any defense until the fourth quarter. That is when the game now gets decided by the “Elam Ending,” where the clock shuts off, and both teams need to hit a pre-determined score as follows.

After the third quarter ends, a target score gets set. The number is 24 points above the point total of the team leading after the third quarter. The NBA chose the number “24” to honor Kobe Bryant. For example, if the score at the end of the third is Team LeBron’s 140, Team Giannis 135, then the target score is set at 164, which is 24 more than Team LeBron’s third-quarter score. Now the first team that gets to 164 wins the game. The game clock shuts off.

What is the appeal of the Elam Ending? It stops the endless fouls and timeouts that often plague the end of close games and can make the last minute take 20 minutes to finish, not to mention there is relatively little on-court action with one team parading to the free throw line. There is now little incentive to foul. It is possible that say, Team LeBron has the ball and 161 points and Team Giannis has 162 that Team Giannis would foul to stop a 3-pointer ending the game. 

The Basketball Tournament, which runs in the summer with a winner-take-all $2 million prize, has used the Elam Ending since 2017 and actually has a fix for this scenario. On any non-shooting foul during the Elam Ending with the offensive team in the bonus, they receive one free throw plus possession. Thus no incentive to foul even at the very end.

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The effect on the game total is both a natural “on” switch to try a bit on defense with the game on the line, plus it shortens the number of possessions vs the other three quarters. The three All-Star games with Elam Endings have seen an average of 318.3 total points scored. The five previous All-Star games saw average totals of 339.5, including the all-time high water mark in 2017 when the West beat the East 192-182.

While we do not know the team breakdown, we do know the other All-Stars besides LeBron and Giannis. They were picked by the conference but will get “drafted” to teams separately for the game itself

  • East: Kyrie Irving, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, DeMar DeRozan, Tyrese Haliburton, Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam
  • West: Luka Dončić, Nikola Jokić, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Ja Morant, Paul George, Jaren Jackson Jr, Lauri Markkanen, Domantas Sabonis, Anthony Edwards, De’Aaron Fox

Kyrie and Kevin Durant were both selected as part of the East contingent, as they were occasionally playing on the Nets at the time of the voting. Durant is injured and will not play. Steph Curry and Zion Williamson were voted in as West starters and also will not play. Siakim, Edwards, and Fox made the game as replacements for Durant, Curry, and Fox. Jaylen Brown is currently injured and may need a replacement as well.

All-Star MVP betting markets will be very active as well. It tends to go towards “chalk,” as the last five MVP’s are Curry, Giannis, Kawhi Leonard, Durant, and LeBron. Sometimes you get a narrative choice like a player in his home stadium. Anthony Davis won it in New Orleans in 2017, and Kobe won at the Staples Center in 2011. Markkanen fits that bill but is an extremely unlikely guy to put up big enough numbers in this game. An All-Star retiring after the season would be another narrative choice, but no one fits that bill unless LeBron has a surprise announcement. That is extraordinarily unlikely.

All in all, expect to see crazy talent unimpeded by defensive resistance, a total score in the 300’s, an MVP that is a future first-ballot Hall-Of-Famer, and hopefully a game that is close enough to make the 4th quarter Elam Ending interesting.

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