Monday, January 27, 2014

Missing the Goat

Last night, WWE held one of its most fun events- the Royal Rumble. Four matches preceded the thirty-man extravaganza. The event was filled with many different superstars of various shapes and sizes, but there was one notably missing: Daniel Bryan.

Bryan has had his ups and downs with the WWE not only on air but in real life. The storylines bleed into reality. At Summerslam, he had finally broken through the glass ceiling- or so it seemed. In all actuality, the ceiling was put back together and raised seemingly ten stories higher. His nose isn't pushed against it because he can't even sniff it these days.

Bryan was placed in an intriguing feud with newcomer Bray Wyatt, one designed to elevate Wyatt into a star while also serving as a distraction so fans might not expect Bryan to win the Rumble. That second part proved moot, as that was never in the cards. Bryan even apologized on Twitter following the string reaction from his followers and those at the Rumble:

"Sorry guys, the machine wanted me nowhere near the Royal Rumble match. But I thank everyone for their support. YOU are the #YESMovement."

Mick Foley was one of those with plenty of disdain for the exclusion of The Goat:

"Does actually hate their own audience? I've never been so disgusted with a PPV."

That tweet generated a massive outpour of support and a reaction not even Foley could predict. It was retweeted over 22,000 times. At some point, this goes beyond a few nerds behind a computer screen in their basement and reaches critical mass. As evidenced by the live audience, Bryan is in demand- but the WWE refused to supply him. I suppose their philosophy is "when in doubt, keep Bryan out." Whether it is pride or simply ignorance, it's not what's best for business.

At one time when Bryan was kept down, initial uproar called for the heads of those in charge. But patience was a virtue I'd often preach. Not anymore. There is no wait and see after last night when the over-the-hill Dave Batista marched in, out of shape and out of sorts to win the treasured title shot at Wrestlemania. It didn't just come at the cost of Daniel Bryan being excluded entirely (thanks to spots being given to Kevin Nash, JBL, the Great Khali, El Torrito, the Miz and Alberto Del Rio). It directly came at the cost of the only other shining star in the company- Roman Reigns.

Reigns is part of the three-man Shield, a stable whose main goal is to eviscerate anything in their path. They have gone against the grain of typical WWE factions and booked strong as newcomers and kept together for well over a year; a rare accomplishment indeed. Lately they have teased the group splitting up, but after last night the foreplay if over. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were two of Reigns' record-setting twelve eliminated victims, and will search for answers tonight on RAW. The old record of eleven held by Kane had stood since 2001. But while it was impressive, it was all for naught as even Reigns could not outdo Batista. Even though all it took was Batista simply tossing Reigns aside like a straw wrapper, and falling down while doing so.

Reigns' time will come, but Bryan's is now. It was plainly obvious after the clock struck :00 and out came Rey Mysterio. Mysterio was in an absolute lose/lose situation. The crowd and audience at home had one man on their minds at the 30 spot, and Mysterio was far from it. It wasn't his fault, but those in charge- the "machine" as Bryan referred to them. Once everyone knew the Bearded One would not come out, the mood shifted towards extreme pessimism. Batista cold have walked on water, fed the crowd by multiplying a fish sandwich and promised them eternal life by sacrificing his own- and it still would not be enough.

The crowd voiced their displeasure, not only once they realized Batista had won but beforehand in the title match that preceded the rumble. The company's two golden boys, John Cena and WWE WH champion Randy Orton squared off in what seems like their thousandth match together. It played out predictably with fans sitting far from the edge of their seats. Chants of "Daniel Bryan!" and "We Want Divas!" broke out. "You Can't Wrestle!" and "Booooring!" were also heard. The divas chant was a first in all my years watching wrestling, and an act of desperation for a crowd who relied on entertaining themselves as opposed to Cena and Orton doing so.

One of the more fun things is watching the final two men square off in a battle not only of strength and physical endurance, but also of wills. It's the match inside the match. One of the better ones happened a few short years ago between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, leading to a classic match at Wrestlemania. Last night, this sort of cat-and-mouse game was not to be had, as Batista was likely winded and looking for a stunt double. He seemed out of sync all night, similar to last Monday on RAW. He wasn't just rusty. He looked like he had been buried deep underground during his time away. His moveset was lazy, sloppy and ineffective. Yet stars sold for him like he was Ironman. His spear on Reigns was awkward and off the mark, almost hitting Reigns in his shins.

And if the fact that Batista belongs no where near the WWE WHC title match at 'Mania, it was made crystal clear as he knelt in the ring after his win- grey chest hair and all. Daniel Bryan is known by his facial hair, and Batista's age is shown by his body hair. This isn't the grizzled, ring veteran kind either like HBK. It's the "Damn, he's OLD" kind. It might seem trivial to some, but more symbolic than anything.

After the event was over, Batista was caught flicking off the crowd, seemingly sick of their turning on him. But can you blame them? In retrospect, the win was telegraphed by his appearance Monday night. WWE chose not to deter from their chosen path....and fans rebelled. A simple cause and reaction.

The WWE did not just miss a chance to send their audience home happy. They missed a chance to make a moment that would be remembered years from now. Chances to make these genuine moments don't come often and can not often be so obvious to predict. But after Bryan struck down Bray Wyatt a few weeks ago on RAW, his leading a crowd of 20,000 plus seemed academic.

Bryan has not lost hope, at least not yet, as made clear by his Twitter:

"They try to keep US down and away from the top spots, but they can't ignore the reactions forever. Keep voicing your opinions."

The reactions will certainly be there, as long as fans worship the ground Bryan walks on. Thanks to the fans' adulation of Daniel Bryan, WWE has one more chance to create a special moment that will forever be etched in the history books and replayed years from now. Whether it's "YES! YES! YES!" or "Daniel Bryan!", their voice will be heard tonight on RAW.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Royal Rumblings

Tonight sees World Wrestling Entertainment present the 26th edition of the Royal Rumble. It's the official beginning of the "Road to Wrestlemania". Yes, there are matches on the card outside the 30 (and once 40)- man main event spectacle...but rarely does anyone remember them. Pro wrestling's biggest advantage over actual sports is being able to plan feuds and matches to best optimize money-making potential. The irony here is the intrigue of the rumble is not knowing the who, when, what or where of it all, yet it's all carefully planned and booked.

WHO: Who will participate? There will be many familiar current stars looking to make their mark in this year's event, but the WWE loves to turn up the nostalgia factor a notch and bring back a handful of former greats in hopes of getting the biggest reaction out of the fans and keeping them on the edge of their seats. Batista came back last Monday. Hogan and Jericho have been mentioned in rumors as well. Undertaker seems to coincidentally resurrect this time each year, yet there's almost always one surprise entrant no one saw coming. A second who will be saved for the end, because there is only one winner.

WHAT: What will happen exactly? No one knows, outside of those booking it and the man himself, Vince McMahon. It's always impressive how this match can be booked to the thirtieth entrant and coordinated like an aggressive and athletic ballet of sorts. There are all sorts of spots to be had thanks to the unknown amount of wrestlers in the ring at any given time, and creative ways stars can be eliminated/saved.

WHEN: When will stars enter? Outside of CM Punk entering at one, the unpredictability is the rumble's biggest attraction. This provides for stars to be in the ring for very long  or short periods of time. It's a mass of bodies going at high rates of speed with fans "ooo-ing" and "aaaah-ing" like kids in a candy shop.

WHERE: Where will the winner enter? The best spot it seems to be mathematically is last (30). But that does not always guarantee that entrant a win, as past rumbles have shown. The WWE always seems to mix it up here, with past winners going wire to wire for over an hour to win. Other times, an entrant can come in late and mix it up for a few minutes before securing their title shot at Wrestlemania.

Now comes the fun part: predicting. There are different things the Rumble is known for, and why the fact it's only once a year reminds all fans of how special it truly is. Here goes:

Best Move: 
GOLD: Ryback
SILVER: Antonio Cesaro
BRONZE: Evan Bourne

Past highlights have included John Morrison and Kofi Kingston to find creative and thrilling ways of staying alive, refusing to let their two feet touch the floor, and re-entering the rumble. Sometimes it's cheesy, but other times it's just awesome. This year I give it to Ryback, who has been in the doghouse lately, but has been turning a corner in his character. He has a stiff style, but the power is there. Cesaro will look to clear the ring with multiple spins, and there's an outside chance of a returning Evan Bourne, who fans have not seen in quite some time. I have no idea exactly what he'd do, but the high flyer is known to impress even in losing efforts.

Most Shocking Entrant: 
GOLD: Sting 
SILVER: Jeff Hardy
BRONZE: Undertaker

Reports indicate WWE and Sting have FINALLY agreed to a deal, after years in the making. Could he debut tonight? The chances are slim, but as they say- there's still a chance. Jeff Hardy would gladly be welcomed by WWE, who currently thrive on old names. Another run in the WWE might be an interesting thing for Hardy and fans alike. The Undertaker always seems to come back this time of year as mentioned above, yet it is no given. If he did, fans young and old will all act like little children- giddy with delight.

Yeah, I Know Award
GOLD: Chris Jericho
SILVER: Sheamus

This award goes to the most obvious return of the night. Jericho loves to collect a check each year and has failed to evolve his character for almost four years. His last few runs have been less than memorable, and while some may "mark out" for the Ayatollah of Rock and Roll-ah...count me out.  Sheamus is almost in the same breath, except at least Y2J has an impressive resume to back his stagnation up. Forgive me for not being a fan of Sheamus, but his character's grade-school level IQ and overall bland personality prevent me from ever anticipating anything involving him. Lastly I tossed in HHH here. It would be no surprise at all if he took off his suit and tie for his trunks, just for the sake of one more crowd pop.

Thanks for Coming Award:
GOLD: Zack Ryder
SILVER: Wade Barrett
BRONZE: Heath Slater

Every year we see a star come in and leave before we realized it. Fans out there will still chant "woo, woo, woo" but might not get the whole phrase out before Mr. Strong Island is tossed out. Barrett has been appearing on TV as a moral compass of sorts, ridiculing superstars and fans for their bad habits. He can talk a big game, but doubtful he'll back it up in the rumble. Heath Slater and 3MB are jobber fodder, and can always be counted on to take it on the chin.

Ironman Award: 
GOLD: Daniel Bryan
BRONZE: Seth Rollins

This goes to the star who will spend the longest amount of time in the ring. The fans clamor for Bryan all the time. The more Bryan, the better. He has the same ability in the ring, and way more positive heat than anyone on the roster. Punk is included here as his storyline as the first entrant by way of The Authority could cause him to rebel and remain in the rumble for an extended amount of time. Rollins is a worker, and could really make a statement to those who overlook him compared to Reigns and Dean Ambrose.

The Ringclearer Award: 
GOLD: Roman Reigns
SILVER: Antonio Cesaro
BRONZE: Undertaker

This goes to the star with the biggest impact on the rumble. They may be in it for a twenty minutes, or two minutes. But the fact of the matter is how much they affect the main event in their amount of time, measured by eliminations. Reigns' spear is the most lethal finisher in the WWE these days- sorry, Randy.  He can accelerate and launch himself at any given moment. From there, it's easy pickings. Cesaro will look to impress with his feats of strength and if his upped TV promo time as of late is any indication, WWE will expect big things from him sometime soon. 'Taker's effect if he arrives would certainly bring eliminations. It's all a matter of if he'll show up.

The Winner:
GOLD: Daniel Bryan
SILVER: Batista

It's no secret Bryan has been the fan's favorite wrestler for the last year or so. Whether it was teaming with Kane, wrestling Cena, feuding against HHH and Randy Orton, or teaming with the Wyatts, the fans could not stop chanting "YES! YES! YES!" If the WWE chooses to go with another star, it will be one of the biggest mistakes they have ever made. Heat like Bryan's has to be capitalized on as it does not come often. Batista returning the same week and winning might not be very logical, but WWE would love to feature Dave against his former Evolution mate and current WWE WH Champ, Randy Orton. CM Punk has been mentioned as a possible winner, but I foresee him being bounced by the Shield as payback from his 3-on-1 win over them, as well as him fighting HHH at Wrestlemania 30. A match two and a half years too late.

Other winners:
The New Age Outlaws vs The Rhodes: The Rhodes. TNAO aren't so new anymore, and the fans seem to enjoy the brothers as champs. Let them retain and drop the belts at Mania to a more deserving team, maybe even the Usos. 

Big Show vs. Brock Lesnar: Brock Lesnar. Lesnar has to get back to his ways of "badass-ery". He is a legit scary looking dude who doesn't take any sh*t, and shouldn't. Let him destroy Show with a wicked F-5 and move on to bigger and better things for 'Mania. This feud should've stayed in 2003. 

Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt: Daniel Bryan. But in a figurative sense, both will be winners here. Bryan will help Wyatt look like a star and have a solid fifteen to twenty minute match. Bryan will win, end the feud and look on the bigger and better things in the rumble. 

John Cena vs. Randy Orton: Randy Orton. If only because of the Dave/Orton rumors. But Bryan still needs to get his comeuppance on the Viper, and Cena doesn't need to belt to be popular or sell tickets/merchandise. Like Show/Lesnar, I never want to see these two matches up ever again in a singles match. 

People who predict things hope to be right so they look smarter than others, when it's all just a matter of research mixed in with a little luck. Because knowing how the Royal Rumble would end ahead of time would take all the fun out of it. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Monday, January 13, 2014

Organic: It's What's for Winners

 (credit: UPI/Mike Theiler)

Last week, the Redskins announced the hire of their new head coach, Jay Gruden. The promotion for the former Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator and brother of Monday Night Football analyst John Gruden has mixed reactions to it, but it's a breathe of fresh air for any fan of the burgundy and gold.

I claim no allegiance to the Redskins, but living in the DMV area I know many fans of the storied franchise, and this latest hiring is definitely a hot topic of any conversation. The days of Joe Gibbs, Super Bowls and perennial playoff-contending teams is a thing of the past (twenty-two years and counting). The franchise has stumbled on its quest to restore the franchise to those successful times, but may have gotten it right this time.

The Redskins have only seen six winning seasons in since 1993, the revolving door of coaches beginning with Norv Turner. While he improved each of his first three seasons, inconsistency plagued his tenure and was ousted during the 2000 season. The very next year began the "brand name effect". Snyder looked to grab headlines by going for name value with the winning of championships all but a formality. He hired former Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer in 2001- the pedigree was there, and hopefully the wins would follow. Schottenheimer would go 8-8 that season with all eight wins coming in the final eleven games to barely miss the playoffs. But that was all Snyder wrote, as Marty was fired to make way for Steve Spurrier. Spurrier never lived up to his billing, compiling a 12-20 record in his two seasons on the sidelines. 

But like fashion, retro was back in. Enter Joe Gibbs 2.0- two playoff appearances, and two ousts courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks. It was a nostalgic attempt to revive the past- except the game and everything that came with it had changed. Yet Gibbs managed to succeed despite it- just not to the level Snyder and fans hoped. Jim Zorn's hiring was similar to Tom Hanks' character in Big ; he was simply out of his league.

After being coaxed by Snyder, Mike Shanahan had four years to deliver- and failed. Three sub- five hundred seasons and a lone NFC Division title are not what fans expected. The trouble with hiring him (outside of his terrible decision-making and lack of accountability) is he had the name value and nothing else. After winning two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, the Washington franchise and fan base had the same heightened expectations- with less capable personnel, and a Shanahan who was essentially a shell of his former self.

It's time for Snyder and company to take a new approach- the organic one. Let Gruden put together his staff to help mold the team into his vision.

I know, you are thinking, "Snyder will never let it happen." But he should- or he's bound to repeat the past. There's only so many times you can hit a reset button and clean a slate until a fanbase loses faith. Plus, Griffin has already lost one year of his career due to inept decision-making. Don't compound it.

Rome was not built in a day. Give Gruden time to change the culture in Washington without pulling the rug out from under him. More time may not be what Redskins fans want to hear, but it's what they need if they plan on pulling themselves out of the NFC East cellar. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Parsons is Vital to Rockets' Success

We all know about "The Beard". Everyone is well aware of "D12". But the biggest key to the Houston Rockets' success this season hinges on the team's starting small forward, Chandler Parsons.

Tell me if you've heard this before: "The Houston Rockets blow a double-digit lead". It seems to be an all-too-often recurring theme for Rockets this season. The latest instance came on Saturday night against the Wizards when Houston gave up a twenty-five point lead. Notably absent from the game- Chandler Parsons. The third-year forward out of Florida missed his third straight game with a sore knee. It's not just his scoring and ability to spread the floor and find his teammates with all sorts of passes that make him important to the Rockets. It's Parsons' ability to defend almost any player that has earned comparisons to a Swiss Army knife.

The most obvious thing an NBA fan knows about Houston is that they can score, as evidenced by their 105.3 points per game. But what has been painfully brought to the forefront is how porous they are on defense, allowing 102 points per game. Even that can't do justice to watching a typical defensive possession. It usually consists of Jeremy Lin or James Harden getting put on cinder blocks by an opposing guard, with Dwight Howard out of reach to defend said player. The player likely scores, or at least gets fouled- or sometimes both.

But the height and length of Parsons negates a lot of that. He can stay in front of his defender, play smart and avoid foul trouble while still having enough gas to be a key cog on offense, too. His 17.2 points per game is a career best, and Parsons has almost doubled his rookie average from 2011-2012 (9.5). His minutes have only increased, as has his shooting (51%). When Harden goes cold, or Howard is in foul trouble, you can always rely on Parsons for a bucket when his team most needs it. His length not only helps on defense, but adds to one of the best pump fakes in the league. You know he's going to do it 99% of the time, but defenders fall for it constantly. It gets Chandler in trouble sometimes when he travels- but more often than not it clears a path for him to get a better shot.

Parsons is very proficient from deep as well, as he drilled 154 threes last season. This current campaign sees him shoot 37.5%- a respectable number. While he has yet to crack 40% over the course of 82 games, the threat of him from three-point land brings back visions of Matt Bullard. Bullard currently assists on broadcasts along with Bill Worrell and Clyde Drexler.

While last year was the year of Harden, and Parsons was more than happy to make way for the elite offensive star, the newest iteration of this team seems to suffer when Harden heaves with reckless abandon. He's averaging 6.28 attempts from deep, up from 6.23 last year. When Harden goes into "hero ball" mode, they abandon all semblance of a team running on all cylinders and usually end up cooling off, and sometimes even freeze. Houston is built on constant ball movement and pushing the pace, something Parsons was born to do. While some may have thought adding in Dwight would slow them down and disorient one of the fastest teams in the NBA, it only enhances their offense now that they have built chemistry 32 games in. Howard's improvements in the post are noticeable, and give Parsons another elite option to dish to or take pressure off of.

Back to Saturday evening in Washington. Before the game, Chandler tried to give it a go- but ended up dressed to impress instead of to play. The absence due to injury wasn't more obvious than on this night. In a game that feature not one but TWO rain delays, the Rockets had the upper hand early. The first unexpected break saw Washington struggle mightily, but halfway through the third Houston let them back into it as the lead went from 25 to 15 points by the beginning of the fourth.

Houston did everything but escort John Wall and his teammates to the basket. Jeremy Lin was no match, and Harden blew his share of defensive assignments- something that simply cannot be done against a shooter like Bradley Beal. Howard was limited with five fouls, too. It's ironic that the two men who looked to fill Parsons shoes (Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi) were the only two to score for almost 9 minutes leading to the Wizards' magical run.

That kind of situation is why Parsons is so important. His knack for making big shots would have likely helped mitigate the Wizards' run. On defense he would have been able to disrupt John Wall and protect Howard from foul trouble; essentially closing up the lane. All the while he'd also being able to back-up Harden against Beal if needed. And if you watch Harden on defense- you know it's needed often.

The 38th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft makes his return tonight in Boston. While the Rockets would be favored against a sub .500 Celtics team, it's never too soon to see a player the caliber of Parsons on the floor.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street: Just Window Dressing

"Hello, is there anyone in there?"

That lyric made popular by Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" about sums up my feelings towards Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio's latest collaboration. A movie with plenty of hype and anticipation would eventually peak for me at that stage. Once I sat down and watched it in it's entirety, you realize there's not much more to it than what you have seen in the previews.

You must be thinking, "It's three hours long. You mean to tell me that the preview can encapsulate the premise of the entire movie in just a few minutes?"

Yes, reader- it can. And it did.

The biggest intrigue to the movie is the spectacle of it all. The wealth, excessive spending, womanizing,- and the drugs. Oh, the drugs. It's very similar to watching a car crash- except this car crash happened over a long period of time and one that the viewing public can look at through rose-colored glasses, unlike some.

By now, most of you already know the story of Jordan Belfort- whether by the trailer, or by the book written by the man himself. Belfort rises through the ranks trading stock and eventually starts his own brokerage company with Danny Porush (played by Jonah Hill). By using the old "pump and dump" scheme, Belfort is able to swindle 34 companies out of millions of dollars- using that money to spend on many an extracurricular activity. He eventually gets caught, serves twenty-two months in prison and is still paying back people to this day

Danny Porush even said, "The a distant relative of the truth, and the film is a distant relative of the book." Porush would also later claim that no one ever called Belfort "the wolf" of anything. Rumors have it Belfort gave himself the name- a true no-no, defeating the purpose of having one in the first place.

While the movie takes cinematic liberty on many an occasion, it does not take away from the elite acting of Leonardo Dicaprio. He oozes charisma and energy. His ability to pour himself into this role is what carries the movie, up to a certain point. His accent is spot on, as is his knack for eliciting disdain. On lesser levels, the same can be said for other actors, such as Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, and Kyle Chandler. McConaughey's roughly ten minute tenure is truly special and entertaining- even if it is without a moral compass.

But it all reaches a deep end, one that can't be tread with just superb acting. After you get past the many scenes of debauchery and excess, the story behind it is flimsy at best.

In a story such as Belfort's, you would wait for the big, bad "wolf" to get his comeuppance. And he does eventually- yet it never feels like he's really in trouble. Yes, the law is after him. Yes, he's cheating on his wife. And yes, he's operating vehicles under the use of drugs and alcohol. The movie spends more than two-thirds of running time on nailing these themes into your head. But the last thirty minutes or so of the "twist" seems rushed. I put twist in quotations, because you likely know what happens before you see the movie. Sorry, I'll let you finish reading the Bible. Wouldn't want to spoil "Passion of the Christ" for you.

The three hour running time demands a huge commitment from the viewer. It also rips away the common two hour formula everyone associates with movies, where they can sense when certain twists and turns are supposed to happen- and eventually, the end. But by the time you get past the second hour, you aren't feeling fulfilled. You just want it to end. The three hours is chalk full of scenes (such as a Lamborghini ride fueled by quaaludes) that seem to drag on and on, seemingly only to set a record for use of profane language.

When it comes right down to it, TWOWS is built like a house of cards. One that doesn't take a big, bad "wolf" to blow down.

Rating (out of five stars): **

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Utopian Vision

We'd all love to sit here and think the fan NBA All-Star voting process produces players who have played on an elite level for the first half of the season. But when it comes right down to it, it's all a popularity contest, as evidenced by's voting results as of December 26th.

Why would Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Rajon Rondo all be in the top six of the East's front court? Rose and Rondo have played  a combined 10 games- all by way of Rose. Rondo has yet to play for the Celtics.

Irving has been nothing short of disappointing this season; one which seemed primed for the Cavs to take a top seed in a very weak East. While he is averaging 22 points and 6 assists and played in all 32 games, the team is 11-21. He's averaged 26 points in his last five games- including a 40 point effort against the Hawks- all losses.

The biggest sore thumb for the East is Kevin Garnett being sixth in the East's frontcourt. His season (as well as the season of the Nets) has been absolutely terrible. A team primed by some to challenge the Heat (or if anything, have a top 4 seed come playoff time), the Nets sit at 10-21. Garnett has averages of 6.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting a disastrous 36% from the field. 

On the West's side, Kobe Bryant leads all backcourt vote getters with over 720,000. In six games before injuring his left knee with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau, Bryant averaged 13.8 points and over six assists a game. He did manage to shoot 42%, but only 18% from three point land. Fourth in the backcourt is Jeremy Lin, whose has had a respectable season, but not at an elite level. But he gest the advantage due to being from China, the very same advantage Yao Ming received back in his days on the court.

On this very same backcourt list, Damian Lillard sits 8th. Lillard is only the second best player on a team that has been first in the West for a majority of the season. They sit a half game behind the Thunder along with the Spurs, as this season has seen Lillard and his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge put in All-Star level numbers night in and night out. Lillard is shooting over 43% from three, over 41% from the field and 89% from the charity stripe. He's scoring over 21 a night and dishing out almost six assists as well- not bad for being option number two. Without a doubt in my mind, Lillard should be ahead of Bryant and Lin based solely off on-court production.

But this ideal, utopian starting line-up I have envisioned can only be seen on paper, or in this case on screen.While one may simply look at a player's numbers (such as Irving's), I also take into account the effect a player has on its team. Simply put: is their stellar play translating to wins? No cigars for players like Irving, Anthony,  or Cousins. As phenomenal as they are, other players' impact on their respective teams weighs more.

Another obvious factor I took into account was whether or not the player is healthy, or has played a majority of the season. This eliminates players such as Rose, Rondo, Bryant and Westbrook. Tonight also saw the great Chris Paul go down as well for three to five weeks with a separated shoulder. Enough foreplay- let's get to my starting line-ups, followed by the benches for both conferences.

East Starters: Dwayne Wade, Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, Paul George, Roy Hibbert

There are three glaring things about this starting five: no real point guard, no real power forward, and  Miami and Indiana are on their own level.

Why no point? Because LeBron and Wade are on the squad- but also because Stephenson has improved by leaps and bounds since his days as "the choke sign" bench guy. One thing in his favor is the simple fact that others are hurt or on poor teams. Both Rondo and Rose have dealt with injuries. John Wall, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving all are healthy and talented, but their teams are struggling in a weak conference.Make no bones about it, though- Stephenson is a terror on the court (13.3 ppg, 5.2 apg, 6.6 rpg). He can create his own shot, and has developed some very impressive handles.

The reason there is no 4 is because there is just no room for one. Sure, LeBron can slide in and do a hell of a job, but he's not your prototypical power forward. There's no denying him and George starting forward spots, either. The two will be vying for MVP along with Durant at the end of the season. Both are excellent defenders and offensive game-changers who have the ability to not only take over games, but make their team better. They know when to take over, and when to become unselfish; models of transcendent talent. Along with "The Death Star" Roy Hibbert, they'll only make the starters more formidable.

Hibbert is in line for defensive player of the year (2.7 BPG). And another thing that separates him from other big men: 76% from the free-throw line. That's almost unheard of. Wade also benefits from the injuries in the East, but would likely start regardless due to his popularity, along with the fact that he is still a very good player on the two-time defending champs and the second seed in the East.

There's no question the Eastern Conference Finals will come down to these two teams. Barring injury, of course. Their rivalry will only grow- but in this case, they join up for the greater good.

East Bench:  Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, DeMar Derozan, Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond

Anthony, like Irving suffers from being on an atrocious team. The one thing that you can't deny is the man can score (26.3). What you might not realize is he is all over the boards, too with 8.9 snagged a game. That's almost three more than Brook Lopez. His talents only go so far, as proven with a 10-22 record. But those offensive skills are too good to leave off this team. John Wall's improvement is admirable, which earns him the bench spot. The Wizards will need to beat teams with better records, though. While they are 5th in the East, they have only beaten one team with a winning record (Atlanta).

DeMar Derozan has been a rock for the Raptors, along with Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valaciunas. Those three have the Raptors over .500 (16-15) and first in the Atlantic. He and Anthony being able to play various forward and guard spots give the East plenty of line-up options during the game.

The bench is anchored big man-wise by Noah and Drummond. Noah is the second-best player on the Bulls with Rose out, and his double-double average secures him an All-Star nod. Drummond is the best young and upcoming big man not only in the East, but in the NBA. He's putting up 12/12 a night along with almost 2 blocks per game. Games against Philly and Milwaukee have seen him put up 31/19 and 24/19- bringing Dwight Howard comparisons to the table. The only reason that comparison is a bit off is because of free throws. And the weirder part- Howard is better. Twenty percent better. Drummond will eventually have to remedy those problems at the line, but is a solid bench player for the East in 2014.

West Starters: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard

Where the East lack both a traditional 1 and a 4, the West are balanced and lethal. Aldridge and Lillard have the Blazers at the top of the West as mentioned above, with Aldridge in legitimate MVP talks (23/11/80% FT). Howard had his doubters after a tumultuous two seasons, but is back and healthier than ever with 17.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. His post game and footwork have improved exponentially, and his defensive presence has always been there (1.8 BPG).

There is  certainly no shortage of scorers in the West. Durant is only second to LeBron in regards to the MVP, and stands out as the West's best player. His ability to keep the Thunder contending without Russell Westbrook make it all the more impressive. He also looks for another scoring title as he leads the league with 28.6 per game, over two more than Kevin Love (26.3).

Lillard and Curry will give the East fits all night. They rank first and second in threes made (108, 104) and can create their own shots with the ability to blow past you in a heartbeat. Curry is also second in the league in assists to Chris Paul. Bum ankle- what bum ankle?

West Bench: Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, Chandler Parsons, James Harden, Tony Parker

One thing is for sure: the West is the land of the big man. The fact that players like Love (26.3 ppg/13.5 rpg) and Cousins (23.1 ppg/11.4 rpg)  can't crack the top five is a testament to how elite this team is. Also Blake Griffin's 22 and 10 on a Clippers team headed for the playoffs is impressive, with Anthony Davis (19/10) not far behind. Davis is well on his way to becoming a defensive institution (3.2 BPG).

Parsons and Harden add to the Houston contingency. Parsons is the swiss knife for the Rockets- 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. His ability to defend the opposition's best player makes him the third wheel to Houston's big three. Harden, like Carmelo Anthony, is a superstar scorer. Also like Anthony, he is not known for his defense- but makes up for it with his three-point sniping ability and penchant for assists (5.2).

The final spot belongs to the only traditional point guard on the roster, Tony Parker. Parker has been elite for so long, we take him for granted. His ability to make wild shots and keep the Spurs in any game are nice. But it's his longevity and ability to stay healthy which make him not only and All-Star, but member of a title-contending team year in and year out.

The 63rd annual NBA All-Star game will be played in New Orleans on February 16th on TNT. Click here to vote.  

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron