In the weeks leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend, the Miami Heat have been playing at a level higher then any other team in the league. Starting with a big home win over the San Antonio Spurs on January 17th, the Heat have been reeling off wins at a torrid pace. They have won 19 of their last 22 games during that span, and 15 of those 19 wins have come by double digits.
Now the Heat are holding the best record in the Eastern Conference at 27-7, which ties them for the top spot in the league with Oklahoma City. Considering the run that Miami is on, you could think that this is the worst time to take some time off for the All-Star Game, but that's not how the Heat players are thinking. They are welcoming the rare days off, though a good part of the roster will be working this weekend.
In total, 6 of the 14 players on Miami's roster (it was 15 but Mickell Gladness' 10-day contract expired on Tuesday) will be in Orlando this weekend to participate in some part of All-Star Weekend. It starts tonight with the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, formerly known as the Rookie-Sophomore Game. Now instead of pitting first year players against second year guys, they chose team captains (TNT Analysts Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley) and picked teams in a draft-style.
Heat rookie Norris Cole will represent Miami in the Rising Stars Challenge, joining stars like Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and Jeremy Lin on team Shaq. That game will be played tonight at 9pm at the Amway Center. Next up will be all the Saturday night festivities, which has been one of the more hyped parts of All-Star Weekend for a long time, mostly for the Dunk Competition.
The Saturday Night schedule begins at 8:30pm with the Haier Shooting Stars followed by the Taco Bell Skills Competition. After that comes the part of the night that Heat fans are likely to be more interested in, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest. Miami boasts the contests' defending champion, as James Jones won the event last season in Los Angeles.
Jones will be joined in the contest by fellow Heat sharpshooter Mario Chalmers, who is having a breakout season as Miami's starting point guard. The two Heat players will be going up against Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Morrow and Kevin Durant, who is replacing an injured Joe Johnson. Johnson was originally slated to participate but is skipping the weekend due to a knee injury.
Saturday night will end with the always popular Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, though this year the field has me a little less then excited. Derrick Williams, Paul George, Jeremy Evans and Chase Budinger, all first-time participants, will compete for the title, though its hard to picture any of them putting up the kind of show that we've seen in years past from Blake Griffin or Dwight Howard. Hopefully they prove me wrong and we leave the arena fully entertained.
That brings us to the main event of the weekend, Sunday nights NBA All-Star Game. From the Heat, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh will be playing for the Eastern Conference team looking to avenge their loss to Kobe Bryant and the Western Conference at last seasons All-Star Game. Bryant had an MVP kind of night, playing in front of his home fans and scoring 37 points. The previous year, Dwyane Wade was named the All-Star Game MVP in a game played at new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, in front of a record crowd of 108,713.
It should be a fun weekend, and we'll have coverage for you of all the excitement. I'll be doing plenty of tweeting from all the different things and events going on in Orlando throughout the weekend, and we'll see if we cant get some time with any of the Heat All-Stars. Regardless, it's going to be an exciting weekend for Heat fans as we have someone to root for each night. Stay tuned!