Now that the All-Star Break has come and gone, attention is on the second half of the regular season.
There are 12 fewer games scheduled this year, so each one carries more weight in regards to playoff seeding.
With that in mind, the arms race that is the trade deadline is taking place as we speak. One big domino has already fallen, will we see another?
While the time off allowed teams to reassess how their year has gone, it also has for the referees who have found themselves to be the center of attention in some key games.
Team LeBron clean sweeps All-Star Night
In his fourth term as All-Star Game GM, it’s clear LA Laker forward LeBron James has figured out the role. With a 170-150 final score, James is now 4-0 as team captain.
Two-time league Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo brought home the All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP award with a game-high 35 points on a perfect 16-for-16 shooting night.
He edged out teammate guards Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry who had spectacular performances of their own with 32 and 28 points respectively.
We’re used to seeing those two battle it out against each other, but on the same team they were equally captivating. Arguably the highlight of the night was their back-to-back half court heaves to close the first half.
Worth noting, however, the last-minute scratches of Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for health and safety violations meant Team Durant was without two key starters (Kevin Durant himself and Embiid).
More importantly, the 76ers duo will now likely miss the first two games after the break to complete their quarantine process.
In addition, Curry won his second three-point shootout, sending Utah guard Mike Conley home empty-handed on the last shot of the championship round. It was a reminder, as if we needed one, that he is the best shooter that has ever played this game.
Portland’s Anfernee Simons stole the halftime show, kissing the rim en route to defeating New York forward Obi Toppin for the title of Slam Dunk Contest Champion.
In the evening’s opening affair, Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis beat Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic to win the skills challenge.
It’s always a pleasure to see the players let their guard down and enjoy the All-Star festivities.
Brooklyn beefs up rotation by adding Blake Griffin, more potentially on the move
The biggest concern with the Brooklyn Nets roster in the playoffs was their frontcourt depth. While he isn’t the superstar he once was, adding Blake Griffin certainly addresses that need.
After agreeing to a buyout with the Detroit Pistons, the six-time All-Star opted to sign with the Nets on a one-year veteran’s minimum contract. It was reported that the LA Lakers, Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors and LA Clippers were all interested in his services.
This could be a pivotal move in his career.
Since his lob city days, this will be the biggest spotlight he’s played in, and perhaps the best opportunity to win a championship.
Surely that will motivate him to prove critics wrong, having hardly played the last two seasons, and hasn’t dunked since 2019.
Things will be different in Brooklyn, though, where he’s not being asked to carry the load. They just need a steady contribution on both ends at key moments.
His relationship with guard Kyrie Irving and reunion with center DeAndre Jordan will help him ease into their rotation.
It was announced Thursday morning that the Spurs and forward LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to part ways, with a trade suitor believed to emerge before the deadline or else he could be another buyout candidate.
More all-star big men have found their names in trade rumors such as center Andre Drummond and all-star Kevin Love. Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes could be playing in a new city soon as well.
The Nets were early participants on the trade deadline frenzy, with several other teams likely to get in on the action as well.
Are referees helping or hurting the game?
In their last game before the All-Star break, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell voiced his frustration with the officiating following an overtime loss against the 76ers.
It was a battle of the top teams in their respective conferences so emotions ran high, but Mitchell was outraged over an ejection and calls that he believes prohibited them from winning the game.
He’s not alone on this growing issue.
Golden State forward Draymond Green has been ejected thanks to some questionable technical fouls, as was Memphis guard Ja Morant recently for slamming the ball out of frustration.
Beyond controversial technical fouls, the last-minute reviews are increasingly disrupting the flow of the game, detracting from the overall viewing experience.
In some instances, the final two minutes of a game can take up to 20 minutes real-time because of replay reviews and coaches’ challenges.
Everyone agrees, the goal is for officials to get the call right. But, they must be held accountable to do so without bringing the games to a screeching halt.
A potential remedy is to utilize a ‘shot clock’ for referees to reach a verdict quicker and more decisively in these moments.
All in all, referees are human and we must always account for human error, so perfection from the officials isn’t attainable.
It’s the players’ job to take care of business throughout the 48 minutes so that one call doesn’t make or break their game, instead of blaming the referees.
As fans get back into the arenas, there will be less dead-air that turns into magnifying the officials’ every whistle.