All-Star weekend

The NBA will kick off its All-Star weekend tonight with the "Rookie Challenge" appearing on ESPN at 6 p.m. The game, which since the 2000 season has pitted the rookie class against second-year players, is in its 11th year, missing only the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

Since the 2000 switch from East rookies versus West rookies to the current system, the sophomores own a 3-2 record including wins in the last two meetings. The latest was a 142-118 win over last year’s rookie squad that featured LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Now second-year vets themselves, James and Anthony will be looking for a little of that sophomore luck as they lead a team that includes Miami Heat star and Shaq sidekick Dwayne Wade. Also on the sophomore roster is former UO standout and Washington native Luke Ridnour, now a starter with the Seattle Supersonics.

While the Sophomore team has the clear advantage (James and Wade will also play in the All-Star game Sunday), the Rookie team should be competitive. They will be more physical upfront, with big men Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor providing rebounding muscle and sucking space up in the middle.

Look for some mind-blowing dunks by Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, but don’t be surprised if the Sophomore team makes this game the third blowout in a row. Even if his team takes the loss, Smith’s weekend won’t be done. He is also scheduled to compete in the Slam Dunk contest Saturday evening.


All-Star Weekend Schedule

Friday, Feb. 18
4 p.m.: "NBA All-Star Celebrity game" (ESPN)
6 p.m.: "Rookie Challenge" (TNT)

Saturday, Feb. 19
5 p.m. (All on TNT):
– "Shooting Stars competition"
– "Skills Challenge"
– "Three-point Shootout"
– "Slam Dunk contest"

Sunday, Feb. 20
5 p.m.: "2005 NBA All-Star Game" (TNT)

Smith will be joined by two New Orleans Hornets, J.R. Smith and Chris Anderson. Also set to compete is All-Star forward/center Amare Stoudamire, who is enjoying a breakout year with the rejuvenated Phoenix Suns.

The league has also issued a standing offer to LeBron James, though James said Wednesday in an interview on ESPN that he is a "last minute kind of guy" and will make his decision closer to Saturday. His decision to participate could legitimize the contest, which fields a weaker roster than in recent memory.

Few can really blame LeBron if he decides to skip out. While it would certainly be thrilling to see him compete in and probably win the contest, James has a busy weekend without the extra work. He is a starter on the East All-Star team and will have already played in the Rookie Challenge Friday night.

If James were to participate in the contest and tire himself out, his East team has plenty of others to turn to if he comes up tired. Most notable among Eastern All-Stars is the return of a healthy and productive Grant Hill, who had previously spent the past three plus seasons with numerous ankle problems.

Hill, once on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, is back now and has proved he is a worthy choice to start in the East by averaging 19 points and close to 5 boards a game going into the weekend festivities. Hill is joined in the starting lineup by James, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal.

In the West, usual suspects Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Yao Ming are joined by first time West starter Tracy McGrady, Yao’s Houston Rocket teammate. Ming set a new record for votes this season by receiving 2,558,278 votes, many of them no doubt originating from his native China, where he is a national hero. Shaq’s move to the East allowed him to be a starter for the first time since the 2002 season, the year before the 7-foot-5-inch Asian giant was drafted by the Rockets.

The All-Star game starts at 5 p.m. Sunday and will be featured on TNT.