Are you ready to watch the NBA’s biggest stars play little to no defense, force ill-advised lobs, and prioritize the avoidance of injury over all other concerns on Sunday? Then you’re no doubt psyched for this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland.
And even if you aren’t — hey, action’s action, and football season’s over.
Team LeBron is favored by 6 points (-110 both ways at FanDuel) to defeat Team Durant, due in part to the fact that LeBron (James) is actually playing in the game, while the injured (Kevin) Durant is not. The two top vote-getters’ real teams — the Lakers and Nets — have been, far and away, the league’s most disappointing, so the long All-Star Weekend will provide them with a much-needed dose of escapism, as a brainless rom-com does for mere gravity-bound mortals.
Thankfully, the actual All-Star Game is but one of many options for bettors adventurous enough to lay some money on the line this weekend, which starts in earnest with the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday. That event takes the form of a four-team tournament this year, which makes it arguably the most interesting offering of the preliminary contests, which account for skills (go, Team Cavs!), 3-pointers, and dunks.
Following is the betting breakdown for all of the above.
Rising Stars Challenge
This year’s Rising Stars Challenge will consist of a three-game tournament featuring four teams — consisting entirely of rookies, second-year players, and top G-League prospects — coached by NBA legends Rick Barry, Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, and Gary Payton, who would form quite the fearsome foursome in an old-timers game.
Team Isiah, a +170 favorite at FanDuel, will square off against Team Worthy (a +350 longshot) in the first game to 50 points, while Team Barry (+260) will play Team Payton (3/1) in the other de facto semifinal, with the two winners playing for top-dog status in a final game to 25.
Each team consists of seven players, and it’s easy to see why Thomas’ squad is favored. G-Leaguer Jalen Hardy aside, it’s comprised entirely of second-year studs like Anthony Edwards (who could have easily made the actual All-Star team), Tyrese Haliburton, Desmond Bane, and Saddiq Bey.
Both of the competing Cavaliers, Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro, will suit up for Team Barry, but it’s Team Payton that looks like the most intriguing underdog. Boasting the tourney’s lone All-Star in LaMelo Ball (replacing Durant on his namesake team), it stands to reason that these matchups will feature a lot more defense than the main game, and Team Payton has a pair of elite rookie ballhawks in Scottie Barnes and Davion Mitchell.
Unlike in years past, this year’s Skills Challenge is a team endeavor — and, in the case of the three Antetokounmpo brothers, a family affair. Giannis is among the best ballers on the planet, but his brothers, Alex and Thanasis, are fringe NBA players, making their longshot status (3/1 at PointsBet, +390 at FanDuel) well warranted.
This challenge is all about shooting, passing, and dribbling, so one can understand why “Team Rooks,” featuring crafty first-year playmakers in Barnes, Cade Cunningham, and Josh Giddey, is the favorite at both of the aforementioned sportsbooks (-150 and -165, respectively). But big men have fared surprisingly well in this event, and Team Cavs (+250 at PointsBet, +240 at FanDuel) — featuring All-Stars Darius Garland and Jared Allen, as well as rookie sensation Mobley — will have the home crowd firmly in its corner.
Remember when the dunk contest was All-Star Saturday’s marquee event? To a certain degree, it still is because, duh, dunks are bad-ass. But it’s galling to think of how much luster it’s lost since the days of Michael, Dominique, and Spud. To wit, the last three winners of this event have been Anfernee Simons, Derrick Jones Jr., and Hamidou Diallo. Case closed.
That being said, Rockets rookie Jalen Green is a legitimately cool dunker and a deserving favorite (+175 at PointsBet) in a field that includes last year’s runner-up Obi Toppin (2/1), Cole Anthony (+275), and Juan Toscano-Anderson (+450), who is either a Golden State Warriors reserve or a type of rustic bread.
Will the fact that Toppin starred at the University of Dayton before becoming a New York Knick get the Cleveland crowd behind him? Probably — and his high-flying repertoire seems to boast more creativity than the equally springy Green’s in a competition where a little extra mustard usually makes the difference.
On the one hand, it sucks that the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, aren’t competing in this year’s 3-point contest. Curry leads the league in threes made and is arguably the greatest shooter of all-time, while Thompson’s comeback after two seasons of sitting out with injuries would have made him a heartwarming presence at the proceedings in Cleveland.
On the other hand, their absence makes this an absolutely wide-open affair — which is clearly to the benefit of bettors. FanDuel has Patty Mills and Fred VanVleet co-favored to win at odds of +440, while PointsBet has installed Trae Young as a 4/1 co-favorite alongside Mills. But smart money might flow toward sharpshooter Bane (+600 at both FanDuel and PointsBet), who’s enjoying a breakout sophomore season alongside Ja Morant in Memphis’ backcourt and, unlike the rest of the field, will be coming in hot off Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge.
The best All-Star Game strategy is usually to bet the over (319.5 at FanDuel) and then fall in and out of sleep until the last six minutes of the game, when both sides start sorta-kinda caring.
But there’s also the “which team has more guys with something to prove” factor, and in this game, it’s definitely Team Durant. Look for dexterous 7-footers like Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid to bring the ball up the floor and launch threes to their hearts’ content, and for Morant and Devin Booker to flush half a dozen stunning alley-oops delivered by the likes of Ball and Young.
It’ll be inside-out and outside-in all night, so lay some light action on Team Durant’s moneyline at +210 (FanDuel) and keep the melatonin on ice.