1 - Baynes has been starting games recently, with Tiago Splitter coming off the bench. Do you think that will be a permanent change and is it a good thing?
Michael Erler: No, I do not. And no, it's not. Baynes is probably as effective offensively these days as Splitter if not more so (and maybe that's why he's starting since Tiago and Tim together are clunky offensively) but he's not anywhere near the defender Splitter is and I don't see this continuing long term. If anybody replaces Splitter in the lineup consistently, it'll be Diaw. Or it would be, if he wasn't back to his Bobcat form. Basically, the problems with Splitter and Diaw are "B" and "C" on what's ailing the Spurs, behind Tony Parker's woes.
Bruno Passos: Good in the sense of him getting more burn against first units, I guess. I don't think (nor am I worried) that he'll be the guy finishing games, or starting the ones that matter. I think this has more to do with preserving Tiago for the long run, especially with how muddled his health picture was earlier this year.
Jesus Gomez: I don't think Baynes starting will be permanent but I could see Pop rotating players in that spot even after the All-Star break. Splitter seems to be in a minutes restriction and the starters have been such a mess that it doesn't hurt to experiment -- for now, at least. If Splitter is not starting by March, then the team won't really resemble last season's squad and that's something to worry about.
Chris Itz: Sometimes I think Pop gets a kick out of seeing how many starting lineups he can use per season. I sure hope Sparkles will return to his role as the regular starter soon because if he doesn't, I don't think that it bodes well for a repeat of last season.
J.R. Wilco: When there are injuries, or when the schedule is crazy like it was in December, Pop goes into experimentation mode. And we've seen how good a thing it is because the Spurs' bench was incredibly productive in last year's playoff run. But I expect things to settle down as they always do as the regular season draws to a close.
2 - Injuries are starting to take their toll on West playoff teams. Which will have more impact, Blake Griffin's, Steven Adams' or Dwight Howard's?
Erler: Definitely not Howard. Houston has been better without him. Their offense already has two inefficient components with Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, so the last thing they need is Howard's post-ups in that mix, with his never-ending turnovers and free throw bricks. They haven't even missed Howard much defensively, as odd as that sounds. Adams is a useful player, and the thought of Perkins having to play 30 minutes sounds positively awesome to me as a Thunder-hater, but rookie Mitch McGary will probably give them 70% of what Adams does and that team is so dependent on their top three guys anyway that ultimately Adams playing or not doesn't move the needle all that much. The answer has to be Griffin. The Clippers have two really good players and he's one of them. Their bench is terrible. They can't even put five guys on the court who aren't liabilities on one end of the court or the other. In retrospect, I'm embarrassed I picked them to make the Finals. I haven't looked at their schedule, but it's tough to see them winning any games against any of the top 20 teams without Griffin.
Passos: Griffin. Because Spencer Hawes isn't Blake Griffin and also because James Harden has proven capable of carrying his team for stretches.
Gomez: I think long term Howard's injury is more problematic to the Rockets than the others' are for their teams. Howard has missed a bunch of games already and even though Harden and Donatas Motiejunas have stepped up, the team is still better when he plays. More importantly,they won't be able to really develop a rhythm with him on the court and that could come back to haunt them later.
Itz: I don't think this one is close. The Clippers are in the middle of a truly brutal stretch of games and they don't have much of a bench. Without Blake for the next couple of weeks they're in danger of slipping out of the top-8 by the beginning of March.
Wilco: Without Griffin, the load on Chris Paul will be heavier. Even if they manage to tread water until Blake's return, it's going to be tough for the Clippers in the playoffs since Paul has had a history of wearing down late in the season.
3 - Which Spur will benefit the most from the time off they will get during the All-Star break?
Erler: This... is not a difficult question. Duncan and Ginobili. Probably Ginobili first if I had to pick between them. Duncan may not be human. I worry Diaw will gain 15 pounds in the week off.
Passos: Tony still looks like he could use an extended breather, and the offense is so much better when he's a force. I'm hoping he still has a bit of that magic left in him.
Gomez: Tiago Splitter. Sure, the older guys will get a chance to rest. I'm still more concerned with Splitter, though. His rim protection is not all the way back but he's making the team better on defense when he suits up. The fact that he's playing less leads me to believe Pop is being extra careful after that lengthy absence. Maybe the All-Star break allows Tiago to get his mobility back and Pop becomes comfortable with him being out there more.
Itz: Danny's played the most minutes, Tony's struggles continue, Manu can always use some time off and Splitter seems to still be recovering from a curious calf injury. In terms of who the team needs, Parker is 1a and Splitter is 1b.
Wilco: I'm convinced that Parker's struggles are a result of nagging injuries and/or his still-recovering hamstring. There are some plays that I'm not seeing Parker use as often as he has in the past five years, which tells me that he's playing at something significantly less than 100%. He needs the rest, and I wouldn't be surprised if Pop gave him a couple of weeks off like he did last year about this time.
4 - On a scale of one to 10, how likely is Marco Belinelli to beat all the stars and win the three-point contest again?
Erler: He'll be the one guy there who'll feel no pressure and won't care because he'll know nobody will pick him. He's also got a quick, easily-repeatable stroke. As long as Belinelli doesn't party too much in New York (no safe bet, that) I'll give him a 4.
Passos: 4. The favorite rarely seems to win this competition, so I wouldn't be all that surprised if Marco played the part of party pooper (and I'll certainly cheer for him to do so). The field is better than it's ever been, though -- easily the most intriguing event of the weekend for me.
Gomez: I was going to give him about a two in terms of chances but then I checked who Marco beat last year. Kevin Love, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard. Then I decided to put his chances at a solid six before checking his shooting percentage from last season and this one. I'll settle for a four.
Itz: In case anyone is curious, his current odds of winning at a couple of offshore sportsbooks is 5-1 after opening at 7-1. If a one to ten scale means that a one implies a 10% chance and 10 implies a 100% chance I'd give him a slightly better chance than the books and give him a two.
Wilco: The blood running in Marco's veins is ice cold. I give him a 7.
5 - What's your favorite All-Star weekend moment of all time?
Erler: For the dunk contest it's got to be Spud Webb in 1986 (I am old). He did stuff for a 5'7" guy that just seemed impossible. My dad made a few comments about him that would get me fired from the internet if I repeated them. For the three-point contest, it was the one where Craig Hodges of the Bulls hit like 20 of them in a row. That was insane. For the game itself, it has to be 1992, where Magic Johnson played after missing the whole year because he retired after finding out he had H.I.V., and still dominated the game.
Passos: I remember Kobe matching up against MJ for the first time. I didn't think much of it then, mostly because I couldn't have imagined how good Kobe would be, but I do still have the memory of the youngster hitting a baseline fadeaway over his idol, and a palpable sense of importance following.
Gomez: I have two memories that stand out. One was Manu playing his first All-Star game in 2005. That was unthinkable for an Argentine player at the time. The second is the 2001 All-Star game, also known as "that time Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Dikembe Mutombo beat the stacked West." I've never seen another All-Star game played with that intensity.
Itz: I use the break to take a little time away from basketball and I'm not sure I've seen more than one All-Star game in the past 15 years. Honestly, the only things I can definitely remember happening during All-Star weekend are Tony Parker competing in and winning a skills challenge, Matt Bonner almost winning the three-point contest in 2013 and Marco winning the three-point contest last season. So, Marco.
Wilco: Kobe and MJ going one-on-one. That was special. I remember watching it at a friend's house full of people who couldn't have cared less about the game. I kept walking back into the room to watch the game and convince myself that what I was watching was the big deal I thought it was.