The All-Star break is almost here.
The NBA's elite will flock to New York later this week for the annual sports spectacle, culminating with the marquee game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. It's a time for the league to showcase itself and its stars, and it's a chance for players and coaches to pause from the regular season's 82-game grind.
And unlike in past years, everybody might actually be able to unwind.
The NBA doubled the days off between games this season after players encouraged Commissioner Adam Silver to rework the schedule. Teams will have a minimum break of eight days between games, allowing even those who participate in All-Star weekend to get a few days of real rest.
While nobody will complain about it, the extended break presents new challenges. Players will need to stay in rhythm, and coaches will need to keep them focused.
"I always thought the games were a little ragged after a four-day break. After an eight-day break, I'm not sure what to expect," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who is leading the Western Conference All-Star team.
Kerr, like most coaches, is telling his players to take a couple of days off to rest their bodies and then do some light conditioning and basketball activities to keep their bodies in tune. He's asking Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson not to overexert themselves with travel and the dizzying daze that is All-Star weekend.
Of course, most players are happy to participate in the league's showcase, especially younger ones and those on losing teams. After all, it's the only opportunity all season to get away from the tedious time with their teams.
"Once that is over, it's back to reality," said Sacramento Kings centre DeMarcus Cousins, a first time All-Star. "It's just going to be a break from reality."
Games will resume Thursday, Feb. 19, though most teams don't begin playing again until Feb. 20 and 21. The format is a one-year test and the league will discuss future scheduling in the off-season.
"It's different," Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "The good thing is with the longer break there are two practice days coming off of it, so I think it'll be fine. I give Adam a lot of credit. He listened to the players about this and really immediately gave them what they asked for."
Here are some other things to keep an eye on in the NBA this week:
HEATING UP IN CLEVELAND: Miami makes its first trip to Cleveland since LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers over the summer. The Heat beat the Cavs 101-91 on Christmas in Miami, but Cleveland is rolling now. The Cavs had won 12 straight until losing Friday at Indiana, and improved to 32-21 with a 120-105 win over the Lakers on Sunday.
POP'S MILESTONE: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remained one win shy of 1,000 for his career after San Antonio's 87-82 loss at Toronto on Sunday night. He could get there Monday at Indiana or Thursday night at Detroit. Popovich ranks ninth on the NBA career wins list, which is led by Don Nelson at 1,335.
MEMPHIS ON THE MOVE: The Grizzlies have won 13 of their last 15 games to climb to the No. 2 spot in the West — three games behind Golden State. The Grizzlies, who beat East-leading Atlanta on Sunday, host Brooklyn on Tuesday and visit Oklahoma City on Wednesday before the break.
COACHING CHANGES: Jacque Vaughn became the second coach fired this season when Orlando dismissed him on Thursday following a 15-37 start. Sacramento was 11-13 when it fired Michael Malone on Dec. 14. The Kings, who promoted assistant Tyrone Corbin to the interim job, are 7-19 since making the move. If either team wanted to hire a full-time replacement before the off-season, the All-Star break might be the best time.
LATE BREAK: The Cavs and Bulls will be the last teams to start the All-Star break. The Central Division rivals will have the stage to themselves Thursday night when they play in Chicago. The Cavs won the first two meetings.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Warriors became the seventh team in NBA history to have two or more players score 50 points in a game in the same season. Stephen Curry had 51 points in Golden State's 128-114 win over Dallas on Wednesday night after Klay Thompson tallied 52 against Sacramento on Jan. 23. The "Splash Brothers" are the first teammates with 50-point performances in the same season since Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson in 1994-95 with the Mavericks.