The East has won just one of the last five All-Star games, and its best club lags behind the three best teams in the league. So, they are definitely the underdogs going into Sunday's matchup. That doesn't mean they lack the talent to emerge victorious, of course. Their roster might not be as impressive as the West's, but they have an edge in experience and LeBron James on their side, so counting them out would be foolish.
Jimmy Butler will be out due to injury, which is a tough blow for the East, as he was having a terrific season. His replacement will be Pau Gasol, who will appear in his seventh All-Star game.
Here's a breakdown of the players who will be representing the Eastern conference in the All-Star game.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Lowry will start in his second consecutive All-Star game. His growth in the past few years has been tremendous. Just three seasons ago he was averaging 11 points per game. This year he's almost doubled that production, contributing 21 points to go with five rebounds and six assists to lead the conference's second-best team. It took a lot of work for Lowry to get to this level, which surely makes him appreciate this honor more than most. The Toronto crowd will be fully behind one of the Raptors' two All-Stars.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: Wade is 34 years old and with a lot of miles on his body, so it's not surprising that he's playing career-low minutes this season and averaging his fewest points per game since his rookie year. That doesn't mean he's not a worthy All-Star. He has been mostly healthy this year, unlike last, and is averaging 19 points, four rebounds and five assists. No one expected Wade's game to age well, as he never developed an outside shot and punished his body looking for contact. He's proving everybody wrong by still playing at a high level in his 13th year in the league.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: Is James still the best player in the league? The emergence of Stephen Curry and the continued excellence of Kevin Durant makes that question hard to answer. What's undeniable is that LeBron remains one of the most unstoppable forces in the NBA, averaging 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists in his 13th season as a pro. His outside shot is not falling this year, but he's still managed to remain a deadly offensive weapon and carried a Cavaliers team that was without Kyrie Irving for a long stretch to the best record in the conference. The King is still elite.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers: George suffered a gruesome leg injury during the summer of 2014 and missed most of last season while he was rehabbing. It wasn't crazy to wonder if his All-Star days were over, but he's put those concerns to rest this year by having arguably his best season as a pro. George is averaging 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals per game and has his Pacers in the playoff hunt in a transitional year. The league is fortunate it got one of its brightest young stars back.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks: Melo edged out Andre Drummond for a starting spot despite the Knicks' mediocre record, proving that he remains one of the league's most popular players. This season, Anthony, who's always been known first and foremost as a scorer, is rebounding and assisting more than ever, finally living up to his potential as a do-it-all forward. He's also averaging 21 points per game and providing leadership for a young Knicks team that needs it. If he continues down this path, Anthony will remain one of the league's best players as he enters a new chapter in his career.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: DeRozan returns to the All-Star game after missing last year's edition, and he truly deserves the honor. The athletic wing has showed significant improvement as a pick-and-roll ball handler and has stopped settling for mid-range jumpers so much, looking to get to the rim and the line more this year. It's not common to see that type of improvement from a seven-year veteran, so he should be commended.
Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks are not as good as they were last season, but Millsap remains one of the league's best big men. He can score inside and out, rebound and find the open man. That versatility makes him a matchup nightmare on offense, while his toughness, athleticism and quick hands allow him to be a plus defender despite typically giving up some inches most nights. Millsap has long been underrated, but his third consecutive All-Star appearance proves that the coaches know how good he really is.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: Drummond has taken a step forward as a player and was rewarded with his first All-Star berth in his fourth season in the league. He's a monster around the rim thanks to his size and athletic ability and is the league's most prolific rebounder, averaging almost 15 a game. He was heralded as the heir to Dwight Howard, and while he's not there yet, he's starting to live up to that potential.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: Bosh continues to be one of the league's best big men in his 13th season. He's posting averages of 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists while stretching the floor with his shooting and playing underrated defense for a Heat team that has the East's fifth-best record. He might not be a traditionally dominant star, but Bosh does most things well and that has value. (Update: Bosh is a late scratch. Al Horford of the Hawks will replace him).
John Wall, Washington Wizards: Washington's season is a disaster but that's not really Wall's fault. The speedy point guard is essentially averaging 20 points, 10 assists and two steals per game and has done so while lacking a quality supporting cast due to injuries. The Wizards will face plenty of questions going into the offseason as they attempt to reload, but they have the advantage of a legitimate superstar already on the roster.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics: It's been quite a ride for Thomas. After being selected with the last pick in the 2011 draft due to concerns about his size, the 5'9 point guard is making his first All-Star appearance thanks to a terrific season with the surprising Celtics. Thomas is averaging 21 points per game and has been a huge reason why Boston has the third-best record in the East.
Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls: Pau resurrected his career in Chicago after toiling away on some terrible Los Angeles Lakers teams. He's not close to the player he was at his peak, but he remains a great offensive player at 35 years of age and provides an inside presence on both ends for the Bulls. Whether he's played at an All-Star level this season is debatable, but if anyone is going to get the legacy nod, it should be one of the NBA's nicest guys.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. Butler's defense was always great but the strides he's made on offense over the past two years have transformed him into a legitimate two-way star. Unfortunately, a knee injury will keep him out of the All-Star game and for a few weeks after.
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