Despite plenty of consternation from players, the NBA All-Star Game is a go this Sunday, and there's plenty of value on this year's contest. Team LeBron staged an epic fourth-quarter comeback in last year's 157-155 win, but Team Giannis (+5) stayed within the number. Can Team LeBron (-4) pull away this time against Team Durant?
It's fitting that the early images from Space Jam 2 came out this week because LeBron James drafted a team of Monstars for the All-Star Game. Just take a look at the rosters for each side:
Even if Kevin Durant played for his side, it wouldn't be enough to tip the scales. Team LeBron's starters have nearly as many All-Star appearances (34) as Team Durant's entire roster (39), and six of the top-seven MVP favorites are on LeBron's squad.
The teams are also split mostly across conference lines, with eight of Team LeBron's 12 players hailing from the West and vice versa for Team Durant. That's bad news for the East-heavy group - the West won six of the last seven contests before the format switched to captains in 2018, with Team LeBron winning each of the previous three years.
Talent matters in this All-Star Game format. When the intensity picked up in the fourth quarter of last year's contest, Team LeBron outscored Team Giannis by 11 points to secure a narrow victory. I'd expect LeBron's crew to get out to a faster start this time around to avoid expending so much energy in the final minutes.
The total (309.5) is a tougher call. We saw 257 points scored through the first three quarters of last year's exhibition before a 55-point fourth quarter, which was capped by the "Final Target Score" that limits the leading side to 24 fourth-quarter points.
The only way the fourth quarter can exceed 48 points is if there's a comeback or if the winning team gets outscored in the fourth quarter. That means you're either banking on a comeback or on both sides exceeding last year's total through three quarters. The safer bet is on the under - if you dare wager on that in an All-Star Game.
Leonard won it last year behind a 30-point effort, but he's a long shot to repeat this time around. Here are the current odds:
Only two big men have won this award since 2015, and the winner rarely comes from the losing team. That instantly narrows the field to a few potential candidates.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (+600) was the only All-Star to play at least 30 minutes in last year's contest, and he may have won MVP if his side held onto a late lead. James is always a strong contender in this market, while Stephen Curry (+850) is built to star in an exhibition like this.
That said, my money is on Damian Lillard (+1600), who should be plenty motivated after sitting out last year's game with an injury and getting snubbed as a starter this year. He's used to starring in an All-Star reserve role - he scored 18 points on a team-high 17 shots in 2019, and he led his team with 21 points off the bench in 2018.
The Trail Blazers star scored 44 points in the last game before the break and is averaging 31.6 points in his last 10 contests. Lillard doesn't need extra motivation to fill up the box score, but nobody channels it better.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.