Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t happy with the All-Star game, saying it was “the worst basketball game ever played.” The Team LeBron coach was at the helm of the losing side on Sunday night, but the defeat wasn’t what irked him. Instead, he was unimpressed with the defensive effort both teams put in.

A Difficult Game to Sit Through

Malone said that it was an honor to participate in “a great weekend” with “great players.” However, when describing how competitive the game was, he minced no words.  The Nuggets coach said players did put on a show for fans, but they didn’t try hard enough, adding that he wasn’t going to lie and admitted the game was hard for a coach to watch and sit through

Malone picked out Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving for individual praise and said that Embiid unsuccessfully implored his teammates to “play harder” and “to get some defense in.” The numbers show that Malone singled out the right players for praise. Irving and Embiid together had 67 points, 20 rebounds, 20 assists, and 4 steals, figures that prove they were at least trying to compete.

Injuries Are a Real Danger

However, with the playoffs looming and many crucial games yet to be played, it is hard to blame players for trying to avoid getting injured in an exhibition game. A LeBron James’ first-half defensive effort illustrates the dangers of trying too hard in an All-Star duel. 

The LA Lakers star who recently became NBA’s leading scorer injured his hand from the rim when trying to block a Pascal Siakam layup. With the Lakers likely to fight for a playoff berth until the last game of the regular season, LeBron James picking up an injury while playing defense in the All-Star game would be disastrous and inevitably invite ridicule. Even if he has to miss one competitive game because of an injury sustained during an exhibition match, it would be one competitive game too many.

There’s No Easy Fix

Malone probably put it best when he said there was no fix to the problem. In fact, NBA’s decision to go with the Elam Ending and a target score is probably the best the league can do in the current format. Even though the Elam Ending rule can’t do anything about the first three quarters, it helps with the last one. 

As for playing defense, it is probably unrealistic to think elite athletes would put an entire season on the line because of an exhibition match. So, when watching next year’s All-Star game, expect more of the same.