By STEVE REED, AP Sports Writer
The NBA All-Star Game seems to be tailor-made for Ja Morant and LaMelo Ball.
The flashy point guards are sitting atop the leaderboard when looking to see which of the seven first-time All-Stars will deliver a memorable moment during the league’s annual showcase on Sunday.
“Melo’s game is perfect for an All-Star Game,” said Miles Bridges, who has been on the receiving end of numerous highlight reel, no-look passes from his Charlotte Hornets teammate the past two seasons. “He does All-Star Game type moves in (regular season) games, so I can’t imagine what he’s going to bring out for All-Stars. I’m excited to see what he does with the best players in the league.
“It’s going to be fun.”
Joining Ball and Memphis’ Morant as first-time All-Stars are Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins, Toronto’s Fred VanVleet, San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray and Cleveland’s Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen — who will be playing in front of their home fans.
Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins believes Morant will put on a show.
“If you’re going to talk about the most entertaining players in the NBA and those at the top of the list, I think Ja has to be up there with a small group,” Jenkins said. “There is a lot of entertainment in this league and obviously the All-Star game is the ultimate highlight for that, and I think Ja will fit in perfectly.”
Morant and Ball are routinely at the center of jaw-dropping plays with their ability to create shots for themselves and others.
Fans enjoy watching them slice through traffic to the rim, make defenders loose their footing with a step-back 3-pointer or cross-over dribble, and setting up teammates for dunks with their impressive court vision.
“As fan, I would be excited to watch him play in this type of game,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of Ball, last year’s NBA rookie of the year. “It’s a free-flowing, highlight reel, play-making game that he’s fit for. So he’s going to bring a lot of excitement to the game and to his teammates. This is right up his alley.”
Ball is the fourth-youngest NBA All-Star behind Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Magic Johnson, and his swagger adds some spice to a game that will be missing perennial All-Stars like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Draymond Green due to injuries.
For Ball, and others, playing in the All-Star game is the realization of a childhood dream.
“I liked the jerseys and my parents would always have the game on and maybe make some cookies,” Ball recently told ESPN. “But I remember going out and putting the rim down and getting dunks going…I knew I would fit in though. My whole life I thought I could be an All-Star, I saw the game and thought I could play in that.”
Morant, the NBA rookie of the year in 2020, may get more opportunities to showcase his skills after being named a starter in his third pro season.
Jenkins expects Morant will have a “significant imprint” on the game.
“He’s one of those great playmakers that can do it himself — get to the rim, play in the paint, knock down the 3-point shot and get out in transition. And you then you see the level of creativity he has with the lobs to his teammates, kickouts for 3s. … From an entertainment factor he is going to be one of the ultimate keys to the All-Star game’s success on Sunday.”
Morant was able to be with his family when he was selected to his first All-Star Game.
“Getting the All-Star starting nod and being with (family) when my name was called, obviously was something I wanted to do, and I was able to do that,” Morant said.
VanVleet, who is just the fifth undrafted player in NBA history to be named as an All-Star and beginning his NBA career in the G League, could prove to be a popular player among fans.
“I think Fred is the ultimate underdog and people always want to root for the underdog,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Bridges has some advice for Morant and other All-Stars playing with his Hornets teammate on Sunday.
“Always be ready,” Bridges said with a smile when talking about Ball. “That was my mistake when I first started playing with him — just not being ready. Still to this day I don’t see some of his passes. So just keep your head on a swivel.”
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel and Teresa Walker contributed to this report.
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