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The NBA is hoping for a little more competitiveness in this year’s All-Star Game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Last season’s All-Star Game played out in a way that the NBA hopes to never experience again. Nobody was interested in defense and almost nobody was watching the game, at least according to the abysmal television ratings.

So, the league sent a message: Make the All-Star Game better.

How that’ll work is anyone’s guess. But they’ll give it a shot on Sunday night, when the NBA’s midseason showcase game returns to Indianapolis for the first time in nearly four decades — with a return to the old no-draft, Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference, 48-minute game format that the league had gotten away from in recent years.

Nobody wants, or expects, Game 7, playoff-type intensity. Nobody is going to risk injury, nor should they, and everyone can agree that injuries — Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Phoenix’s Kevin Durant, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo all either missed the game entirely or played very briefly because of injuries — helped doom the ratings.

A little competitiveness might lead to a bounceback.

“We’ve talked about it a little bit,” said Curry, now a 10-time All-Star. “It’s just coming with the right energy where everybody knows kind of the speed of the game, physicality of the game, and you can kind of make those adjustments whether you’re starting, whether you’re coming off the bench — playing a little bit of defense — and kind of taking it from there wherever the game goes.”

The final score of last year’s game, where James and Antetokounmpo served as captains: Team Giannis 184, Team LeBron 175. Boston’s Jayson Tatum set an All-Star Game record by scoring 55 points and the game had a total — total — of four free throws, all of them shot by Antetokounmpo’s team.

“Hot take: I probably won’t score 55 points tomorrow,” Tatum said Saturday.

We know this much, though: Scoring won’t be hard to find. There’s going to be a ton of 3-pointers attempted — there were 126 tried last year in this game — and most of them won’t exactly be fired off with a defender coming in a full sprint to close out the shooter.

Dunks will be constant, taking charges almost certainly won’t happen unless someone just happens to accidentally get in somebody’s way, and it would take something incredibly egregious to get Milwaukee’s Doc Rivers or Minnesota’s Chris Finch to challenge a call.

“I want it to be more competitive. I think it can be more competitive,” said Rivers, the East coach. “But the health thing, it’s an issue with anything. Someone can get hurt in the layup line. You just never know.”

It’s been a topic that Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about, as has Joe Dumars, the league’s executive vice president and head of basketball operations — even going back to preseason visits with teams last fall. Dumars said his message to players was simple: “Play the game and put on a show.”

“Anytime you walk out on that court as an NBA player and as part of an NBA product for the fans, I think there’s an obligation to put on the best show possible,” Dumars said. “I’m proud of what the guys did at the in-season tournament and I’m looking forward to the All-Star Game. We’ve got the best players in the world and we know people want to see those guys compete.”

There’s no more target score, no more resetting the scoreboard after each quarter, no more player draft — something that was done a couple weeks ahead of time for its first five seasons and done live just before the game last season.

James will play for the 20th time and the Lakers’ star — plus all-time scoring leader in NBA history — will become the fourth player to be in an All-Star Game at the age of 39 or older, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Jordan. Durant is a 14-time selection and set to actually play in his 11th All-Star Game.

There’s a new wave as well: Toronto’s Scottie Barnes, Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey, New York’s Jalen Brunson and Orlando’s Paolo Banchero will all play in the game for the first time.

“Definitely a dream come true,” Banchero said.

Injuries have already forced a couple of lineup changes: New York’s Julius Randle and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid cannot play, while opened the door for Barnes and Atlanta’s Trae Young to get into the game as replacements. Miami’s Bam Adebayo will take Embiid’s spot in the starting lineup for the East, alongside Tatum, Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee teammate Damian Lillard, and Tyrese Haliburton from the host Indiana Pacers.

Starting for the West: James, Durant, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

And even for those who have been there before — many times before — it never gets old.

“Just being around the greats,” Durant said, when asked what his favorite part is. “Even if it’s a couple minutes, you can soak up some type of knowledge from these guys. You just get so much energy seeing other greats, other Hall of Famers, all the other champions in the building with you. So, to be in that atmosphere with them is probably the best part.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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