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Dan Bickley

Fascinating NBA All-Star Game spotlighted big problem for Suns

Giannis Antetokounmpo #24 of Team Giannis dribbles the ball while being guarded by LeBron James #2 of Team LeBron in the first quarter during the 69th NBA All-Star Game at the United Center on February 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There was something beautiful about 2020 NBA All-Star Game. Something redemptive. Something relatable.

A layup drill morphed into a heated contest. Tempers flared. Giannis exerted full effort while guarding LeBron, and LeBron returned the favor. Players put real pressure on All-Star Game officials, forcing them to review close plays and make charging calls. They took the clock out of the game and you wondered if it would ever end.

We witnessed buttercup professionals rising to meet the moment. Think about the image of the average NBA player entering the game.

They take too much time off. They nurse injuries. They ascribe to load management. They employ chefs, massage therapists and soft-tissue specialists. They take nights off during an 82-game regular season, even though they’re paid to play. Even though they are privately shuttled from city to city, first-class every step of the way.

Disgusting, right?

But in the fourth quarter of this groundbreaking All-Star Game, the best players in the NBA played with a rare and real love for the game. They played with maximum effort on defense. Points were suddenly rare and nobody wanted to give up the game-winning shot. James Harden was swallowed up by the moment, passing on a game-winning layup. I mean, when does Harden ever pass up anything to anyone?

Finally, the relatable:

Many basketball fans have their own history with pickup games. We know what it’s like to be in a heated contest careening toward a predetermined number that represents the winning score. Usually, it’s 21. And if you’re playing with a lunchtime crowd, members of the losing team might sit two more games before they see the court again. It’s serious business.

That’s what we witnessed on Sunday. The fourth quarter of the 2020 All-Star Game will go down as the second-best pickup game in history. Behind the day when Michael Jordan’s team beat Magic Johnson’s team during the 1992 Olympics, after practice, off the grid and faraway from the spotlight.

Here are some lessons learned along the way:

— Giannis vs. LeBron in the NBA Finals? Sign me up.

— In the biggest games, it’s rare when Kawhi Leonard is not the best player on the planet.

— Chris Paul is having a really good year. Paul came up with the 2020 All-Star Game concept. He switched to a plant-based diet during the offseason, fearing he was growing a step slow. He was named as one of the seven Western Conference reserves for the All-Star Game, during which the six-foot Paul hammered home an impressive alley-oop dunk. Not bad for a guy who is about to turn 35 years old.

— Devin Booker needs some help. Here’s why:

The Lakers (James, Anthony Davis), Jazz (Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert) and the Rockets (Harden, Russell Westbrook) all sent two players to the All-Star Game. The Clippers produced only one All-Star (Leonard), but only because Paul George has been idled by injury. The Mavericks sent only Luka Doncic, but he’s going home to Kristaps Porzingis. The Pelicans sent only Brandon Ingram, but Zion Williamson is a fast-ascending superstar in New Orleans.

Meanwhile, the Bucks, 76ers, Heat and Celtics also sent two All-Stars apiece. And the application to Phoenix basketball is obvious:

It’s time for James Jones to get Booker a real wingman in the offseason. Or it’s time for Deandre Ayton to finally play the part.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier