LeBron James, in town for the All-Star game, dedicates a new playground at the St. Bernard Recreation Center in New Orleans yesterday.
A season highlighted by the reborn Celtics, upstart Blazers and ice-cold Heat reaches its unofficial midway point in New Orleans Sunday at the NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 17, 8:30 pm/ET, TNT). Four-time All-Star Doug Collins, now an analyst for TNT, is glad to see Boston's resurgence because they're a "flagship franchise[that] made the right moves, got a little luckyand here we are talking about them [having] the best record in the NBA."

The Blazers' turnaround, which included a 13-game win streak in December, has been perhaps the biggest surprise. "I think everybody felt Portland was going to have a throwaway year because [No. 1 draft pick Greg] Oden got hurt. [Instead] they have been a wonderful story."

Meanwhile, the surge of the hometown Hornets into playoff contention has been a boon to New Orleans, which is fighting to retain its NBA franchise while still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "This is so great for the league to be down there and pump some energy and joy into that city," Collins says.

While the Western Conference is loaded - "It's a crapshoot. You've got 10 teams playing for eight playoff spots" - Collins sees only four teams that have set themselves apart in the East: Boston, Detroit, Orlando and Cleveland. "Everybody who thought the East was [going to] be so much better and deeper this year was really wrong. They have some good teams at the top, but the West is loaded."

Other All-Star Weekend events include Friday's Celebrity All-Star Game (Feb. 15, 7 pm/ET, ESPN) and Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam (Feb. 15, 9 pm/ET, TNT), and NBA All-Star Saturday Night (Feb. 16, 8:30 pm/ET, TNT), which includes the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Contest. - Brendan Curley