My dozen wishes for the All-Star Game
HOUSTON -- You don't need me to tell you that the NBA All-Star Game, no matter how defenseless it can sometimes be, never ends in ties and always shames the snoozy Pro Bowl.
Yet you might find my All-Star Wish List to be a handy viewer's guide for Sunday night's extravaganza.
So here are a dozen requests, in honor of No. 1 (Tracy McGrady) plus No. 11 (Yao Ming) in your program: I wish to see T-Mac at his loosey-goosey smoothest, and maybe even smiling if he can manage it after all these months of wincing, since it appears that All-Star Weekend might be the only weekend T-Mac will want to remember from this nightmare season. (Which, of course, depends on how it finishes.) T-Mac has been understandably reluctant to reveal too much about the personal troubles that are "wearing and tearing at me," but what I have heard is that his unshakable back troubles definitely factor into his hints about taking a break from the Rockets to deal with "a lot going on in my life."
I wish to see West coach Avery Johnson trot out a five-man unit consisting of 7-footers only: Kevin Garnett at the point, Dirk Nowitzki at shooting guard, Pau Gasol at small forward, Tim Duncan at power forward and Yao Ming at center.
I wish to see Duncan and Garnett sit together for a televised pregame confessional in which they finally admit that they're both 7-footers and pledge that the longstanding charade of listing themselves at 6-11 -- thereby preventing Avery from officially playing five 7-footers at once -- ends immediately.
I wish to see Avery play five foreigners together even more than I wish to see those five 7-footers as a group. It'd be a great test run for those who hope to someday see an All-Star Game that pits a Team USA selection against a Rest of the World squad, especially since the East's 12-man roster is totally devoid of an international presence . . . unless you count Chris Bosh as an honorary Canadian. Why not, Lil' General? A real Canadian (Steve Nash) can slide over to shooting guard alongside France's Tony Parker, with a Spain-Germany-China (Gasol-Nowitzki-Yao) front line.
I wish to see Avery jump in Duncan's face like he used to do with David Robinson . . . while miked for everyone's listening pleasure.
I wish to see the four Pistons go on a big run when they make their en masse appearance to justify all the slobbering they've been generating, lots of it coming from this corner of cyberspace.
I wish to see how much of the ball Paul Pierce sees when he's asked to share the court with Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace as what the Pistons refer to as "a decoy." On second thought, Pierce has probably suffered enough this season. Maybe Dwyane Wade could volunteer to be the poor sap who has to check in as an East sub and fifth wheel with the darlings of the weekend. (As a reward, D-Wade could later get a few clearouts from Flip Saunders to go right at his predecessor in the lineage of Shaquille O'Neal sidekicks: Kobe Bryant.)
I wish to see how fired-up Gilbert Arenas looks in a game that he'd be watching on TV if not for Jermaine O'Neal's injury. Surely you've heard all about Arenas' chip-laden shoulders. He keeps telling himself that he doesn't belong here because he believes that self-loathing is what will drive him to sustained success. I subscribe to the same theory and, as such, find myself rooting for Arenas today. I also suspect that Arenas' obsession with proving himself, in a setting where intensity can wane, makes him a potential X-factor for the East.
I wish to see if Arenas, as I expect, brings an All-Star program to every Wiz game for the rest of the season to make a quick scan through the East profiles part of his pre-game routine. Reason being: Arenas was added to the East's roster too late to be included in the program. Great fodder for a self-loather.
I wish to see a swift return to health for Stein Line favorite J. O'Neal, who came to All-Star Weekend to participate in everything he can in spite of his groin injury. JO told me he'll definitely make it back for the playoffs and maybe in time to get a few regular-season reps in April before the postseason. Which tells me that Miami and New Jersey, for first-round purposes, will be hoping the Pacers finish fifth or eighth in the East.
I wish to see the media (I'm including myself, yes) spend no more than a minute dissecting the day's Shaq-and-Kobe interactions.
I wish to see how close Kobe comes to Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record of 42. (I actually prefer to see T-Mac make a run at it but it's a reflex by now to throw in a Kobe Watch reminder to all.)
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.