The NBA All-Star Game is always about the players, correct? The 24 very best NBA stars are in Indianapolis (insert your own “Domantas Sabonis got disrespected” line here), and everyone who is anyone socially is spreading love and excitement around Hoosierland as the NBA-viewing public breathlessly awaits Sunday night’s showcase event.

But this year might be different, and here’s why: The Western Conference All-Stars are being coached by Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are 23 games over .500 and lead the Western Conference standings -- 1½ games ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and two games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite all that success, the Timberwolves receive just north of zero credit in the mainstream national media for what they have accomplished this season.

Finch has two players in Sunday’s game -- center/power forward Karl Anthony-Towns and guard Anthony Edwards. On Saturday, the coach will meet with reporters and say whatever is on his mind. If he opens up and is honest, he will excoriate the national media -- and maybe even NBA headquarters -- for the lack of credit he and his team receive despite leading an incredibly competitive conference at a time when two of the league’s biggest names, LeBron James and Steph Curry, are edging closer to the end of their careers.

NBA media coverage seems stuck on those two guys and the messages they send in their television interviews and social-media posts. The story of the week was about how the Golden State Warriors reached out to the Los Angeles Lakers at their ownership level prior to the trade deadline to see if LeBron could be moved up the California coast to San Francisco.

LeBron is now 39 and about to make his 20th All-Star Game appearance -- breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 19. Curry will be playing in his 10th All-Star Game. All eyes and ears will be on them all weekend prior to the 8 p.m. start time Sunday night. Once it’s over, the game will be autopsied -- along with everyone’s All-Star Game picks and predictions -- to determine whether a return to an East vs. West format and full 48-minute game (plus more if it goes to overtime) will be judged as a success.

After last year’s debacle in Salt Lake City, it is hard to imagine this year’s game not being better. The All-Star Game spread opened at West -2½ and has remained there.

"It's an honor to be here, it's an honor to be part of a great weekend with great players," said Denver coach Michael Malone, who was the coach of the Team LeBron losing side (Team Giannis won) one year ago. "But that is the worst basketball game ever played. ... I'm not going to lie."

In the 1993 All-Star Game, there were 62 fouls called. In 2023, there were seven, and viewership was registered at 4.6 million -- the lowest level in more than two decades. Pregame introductions lasted nearly an hour, and there was confusion over who was playing with whom. This year, the policy of letting the team captains pick their own squads was eliminated, and Commissioner Adam Silver has vowed to get the game under way as close to its scheduled start time as possible. Less fluff, more stuff.

Whether it works remains to be determined, but this event has always been a big deal at NBA headquarters and with the NBA’s media partners at ESPN and Turner Sports -- both of whom have been as guilty as anyone of paying too little attention to the league’s overachieving teams. This year’s list of overachievers begins with Minnesota (39-16) and Oklahoma City (37-17), but it also includes the Cleveland Cavaliers (36-17), Orlando Magic (30-25), and New Orleans Pelicans (33-22).

All-Star coaches Finch and Milwaukee’s Doc Rivers have the power to dictate who plays the most and who each team should feed off during Sunday’s game. The gambling picture is most intriguing when it comes to MVP considerations, but also offers opportunities along traditional lines that we will examine below.

Hopefully, this year’s edition will have us all appreciating the All-Star Game the same way we did a decade ago when it was taken seriously and was competitive. The league’s showcase event needs some new juice, and we are eager to see who provides it. Let’s see if coach Finch is someone who prompts something different.

West All-Stars vs. East All-Stars Odds, Spread, Moneyline, Over/Under – NBA All-Star Odds 2024

Moneyline: Western Conference (-140), Eastern Conference (+120)
Spread: West -2½ (-118), East +2½ (-106)
Total: Over/Under 364½ points

2024 NBA All-Star Game ScheduleWestern Conference vs Eastern Conference
Date: Feb. 18
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream: NBA App
Live Radio: ESPN

NBA All-Star Game Predictions and Picks

The “worst game ever” statement made by coach Michael Malone last year was echoed by everyone involved in the 2023 game. Whether or not this year’s edition becomes competitive and includes any actual defense remains to be seen. The days of players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade taking the All-Star Game seriously are long gone.

The younger All-Stars in this year’s game are making such astronomical amounts of money that they are disincentivized to play competitively. It is only an exhibition game, and we shall see if it deteriorates into a layup, dunk, or 3-point shooting contest (there were 167 threes attempted in the 2019 game, just two years after the 2017 game featured 83 dunks – a number that dropped to 27 the following season.)

Last year, players were repeatedly heaving shots from halfcourt and beyond. Despite its 4.6 million viewers, the thing was unwatchable. There is unanimity around the league that this year’s game needs to be better, and the thought here is that the return to the East vs. West format will make it easier for the casual fan to enjoy.

Whether that equates to increased competitiveness remains to be seen, but our operating thought is that these players actually do care about the state of the game and will want to fix what is broken. That should translate into a competitive final six minutes, provided the game stays tight.

Those first 42 minutes, however, will likely be more of what we have been seeing for the better part of the past decade: Dunks, threes, and no defense -- unless one of the younger All-Stars finds a way to set a different tone early. That is a long shot, but not the worst proposition ever. Still, it is hard to see recent history not repeating itself, which leads us to our first prediction:

The Pick: Over 364½ combined points (-106)

The line has stayed static at West -2½, and whether it moves or not will likely be influenced by what the players say about competitiveness, pride, and the state of the league during their media interviews on Saturday. It says here that Jayson Tatum is the best young player in this game, and it also says here that Tyrese Haliburton starting and representing the host Indiana Pacers will be a big deal when the ball is tossed up. And as long as this thing stays up for grabs into the final six minutes, we expect two or three of the younger players to dictate the outcome in what should be a close finish. And so …

The Pick: East +2½ (-106)

Odds are subject to change*

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