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BBVA Rising Stars Challenge - Preview

I'm not sure why I'm bothering to write a preview for a game that is less serious than the All Star Game. But the new format of the game this season, and possibly the presence of Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley, could make what is usually a playground run into a ... well, it'll still be a playground run. But like no playground we ever play at.

The draw for Clipper fans will be Blake Griffin, who has got to be the first NBA player in history to start in the All Star Game AND play in the Rookie-Sophomore game in the same All Star weekend. But for a change, Blake isn't the center of media attention -- that somewhat dubious honor this year goes to Jeremy Lin. Which is good, because the combination of events and constant media attention just about wore Griffin out last year at All Star Weekend.

I'm still baffled as to why Griffin is playing in this game. When Derrick Rose was selected as an All Star reserve in 2010, he chose not to play in the Rookie Challenge in order to limit his wear and tear. Blake opted out of the Slam Dunk contest to avoid wearing himself out this year. Why is he playing in this mess?

My assumption is that the NBA pressured Blake into taking part. You might think that the league would prefer to have him defend his title in the Dunk Contest if they had a choice, but it's also possible that the new format of the game has a role here. BBVA is a new sponsor for the league, and TNT has something invested in the Rising Stars Challenge as well, with the Team Shaq, Team Chuck silliness. Something tells me that more than one entity with clout in the league offices wants this event to be a big hit, and they need the star power of Blake Griffin to make sure it will be. (Interestingly, Lin came on so late relatively speaking that he wasn't even in the original pool of players for the Rising Stars -- Griffin was going to be the headliner for this game, but now it looks like it's Lin.)

The teams break out as follows:

Team Shaq

Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
Jeremy Lin, NY Knicks
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Landry Fields, NY Knicks
Norris Cole, Miami Heat
Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons

Team Chuck

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
MarShon Brooks, NJ Nets
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs (out with injury)
Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

At first glance you might think that Team Shaq has the upper hand -- they certainly have the star power with Griffin, Lin and Ricky Rubio all together. At second glance, you realize that Shaq for some reason drafted six guards, five of them point guards, on a 10 man roster, so that team could be in trouble. At third glance, you remember that these kinds of up and down games favor perimeter play in the extreme so having a bunch of guards won't be a handicap after all -- it's not like Derrick Favors is going to be getting a lot of touches in the post for Team Chuck. In fact, the one thing I want to see other than a Rubio to Griffin lob is an all point guard lineup from Team Shaq.