The NBA All-Star game has historically been a game that features a lot more oohs and aahs than solid fundamentals. So what is practice like for the NBA's mid-season classic? It's a lot of passing, stretching and shooting...from half court.
Preparing for the most important and exciting exhibition game of the NBA season, the NBA's Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams held a practice inside the Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center for local NBA fans and those who had made the trek across the country to see their favorite NBA stars.
Both teams want to walk out of Houston as winners, but the emphasis for practice and the game itself is having fun and giving people something to remember.
"We just want to go out there and have fun, enjoy ourselves, and give the fans a good show," said Western Conference center Dwight Howard before practice.
About 1,000 fans showed up to catch the warm up session, which featured coaches Greg Popovich and Eric Spoelstra installing a few set plays, the players running passing drills, taking shooting practice and holding the longest and perhaps most impressive game of knockout ever witnessed.
The game of knockout initially featured fans competing against NBA players to see who would be the last man (or woman) standing in the popular playground hoops game. The game quickly whittled down to an NBA-player exclusive affair and by the end featured Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Jrue Holiday shooting from half court trying to knock one another out of the game. It went on so long that the contest ended in a three-way tie.
The knockout game was the final event of the session, but before that each coach put his team through a basic practice that lasted about 20 minutes. Each coach approached it with his own philosophy.
"Tony, don't go too fast, you might get hurt," Popovich told Western Conference guard Tony Parker, who just happens to star for his Spurs during the season.
"Jeez Louise," the coach added.
On the other end, the Heat's Spoelstra said he was running many of the same openers he uses for his team during the season.
"It's a concentration drill we do every day in Miami," Spoelstra said of the opening drill he ran for the Eastern All-Stars. "If you don't pay attention, you get hit in the face [with the ball]. So it's a good drill."
LeBron James, who plays for Spoelstra during the year and will start for him on the Eastern Conference squad at forward, said running the afternoon's practice might be tough for his coach.
"We're about to go do something Coach Spo doesn't like – a quick practice," James joked.
In addition to the game of knockout, the two teams also engaged in a half-court shot contest that the East won in sudden death with an extra long-range jumper from James to break a 2-2 tie. James' teammate Chris Bosh knocked one in afterward for good measure.
The practice lasted a little less than an hour and was much less intense than an average team practice during the season, but the players, coaches and fans seemed to make the most of it.
There was only one dunk during the practice, which was thrown down by James to the most thunderous applause of the afternoon. If things go as expected, he and the rest of the NBA's All-Stars will be doing it a lot more when the lights go up on Sunday night.