Lakers_Suns_Basketball_65329

Lakers forward LeBron James is among many prominent NBA players who have criticized the league’s decision to hold an All-Star Game this season. Matt York/Associated Press

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, public pushback from players and concerns from a local governmental official, the NBA formally announced Thursday its plans to hold the All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have agreed to hold a modified All-Star Weekend, salvaging a scaled-down showcase during the March 5-10 midseason break after the coronavirus pandemic scuttled plans to hold the event in Indianapolis.

Under the new plan, the All-Star Game will tip off at 8 p.m. at State Farm Arena, which is home to the Hawks. This year’s festivities will also include a pregame slate of the Skills Challenge and the Three-Point Contest, beginning at 6:30 p.m., and a halftime presentation of the Slam Dunk Contest. Like last year, the All-Star Game will use the “Elam Ending,” which provides a “target score” during an untimed fourth quarter.

Players will be shuttled into Atlanta on Saturday and back out on Sunday night, using private transportation. All participants will live in what the league is calling a “mini bubble” during their stay, with players and coaches remaining at a single hotel and undergoing regular PCR testing.

The rescheduled exhibition, which is expected to generate $30 million to $60 million in television ad revenue, will feature a donation of $2.5 million to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and coronavirus-related causes. Atlanta was chosen as the site in part because TNT, the official television broadcaster of All-Star Weekend, is based there.

“NBA All-Star in Atlanta will continue our annual tradition of celebrating the game and the greatest players in the world before a global audience,” Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “In addition to the festivities on the court, the All-Star Game will honor the vital role HBCUs play in our communities and focus attention and resources on COVID-19 relief, particularly for the most vulnerable.”

The pandemic has caused problems for the NBA this season, with positive tests by players and absences due to contact tracing leading to 30 postponed games. Yet the league’s health situation has gradually improved with tightened protocols, which were instituted last month and aimed at restricting players’ off-court contacts. Over the last three weeks, only six players have tested positive. Nationally, the rate of new cases has dropped from peak levels in early January.

Still, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms expressed concerns Tuesday that the event could increase Atlanta’s COVID risk by attracting an influx of visitors and partygoers.

“Under normal circumstances we’d be grateful for the opportunity to host the NBA All-Star game, but this isn’t a typical year,” Bottoms wrote on Twitter. “I’ve shared my concerns (with the NBA and Atlanta Hawks. … We agree that) this is a made-for-TV event only, and people shouldn’t travel to Atlanta to party.”

The NBA said that there would be “no fan activities, ticketed events or hospitality functions” this year.

LeBron James of the Lakers and Kevin Durant of the Nets will be the captains after receiving the most votes from fans. James will start for the 17th time, extending his record, and Durant is an All-Star for the 11th time.

Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19) and Kobe Bryant (18) have more total All-Star selections than James.

Denver’s Nikola Jokic and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard join James as Western Conference front-court picks, Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Dallas’ Luka Doncic are the starting guards from the West, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid are alongside Durant as the East’s front-court starters, and Washington’s Bradley Beal and Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving are the East starting guards.

Reserves will be announced Tuesday, to be decided by voting by NBA head coaches.

Several top players have expressed concerns about holding the All-Star Game during the pandemic or with the league’s health protocols. James said that it felt like a “slap in the face” to hold an exhibition during the coronavirus pandemic with little warning to players who believed they would be getting a five-day break. Antetokounmpo and James Harden said that they would rather spend the time with their families, and Kawhi Leonard argued that the NBA was “putting money over health.” Meanwhile, Durant tweeted his frustration with the league’s contact tracing policy, which has sidelined him for the second time this season.

To accommodate schedule-related concerns, teams with all-star players might be given an extra day or two off before resuming the second half of their schedule after the midseason break, the league said this week in an internal memo to teams.

The All-Star Game is traditionally one of the most important dates on the NBA calendar from a television perspective. The 2020 event averaged 7.3 million viewers on TNT and TBS. By comparison, a 2019 Christmas showcase between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers averaged 8.8 million viewers on ABC and ESPN, while a 2020 Christmas game between the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks averaged 7 million viewers. The 2020 NBA finals, which were held in October because of the pandemic and had to compete with the NFL, MLB and college football, averaged 7.5 million viewers.

The NBA has held an All-Star Game every year since 1951, with the exception of the 1999 lockout-shortened season. Last year, the NBA held All-Star Weekend in Chicago a few weeks before the season was suspended March 11. The NBA announced in November that Indianapolis’s turn to host All-Star Weekend, initially scheduled for Feb. 12-14 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, would be postponed until 2024, citing “public health conditions.”

POSTPONEMENT: Dallas will not play the Rockets on Friday in Houston, the league announced, citing a “government shutdown of Toyota Center because of severe weather conditions.”

The Mavericks also had their Wednesday home matchup against the Pistons called off.

THURSDAY’S GAME

RAPTORS 110, BUCKS 96: Norman Powell scored 29 points, Pascal Siakam had 27 and Toronto won at Milwaukee, handing the Bucks their fifth consecutive loss.

Powell matched a season high in scoring while shooting 9 of 12, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Fred VanVleet added 17 points for the Raptors, who pulled ahead for good late in the first quarter.

The Bucks last dropped five straight games from Jan. 25 to Feb. 3 in 2017. This entire skid has come without guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed six consecutive games because of health and safety protocols.

Comments are not available on this story.