Sunday, February 20, 2011

East meets West in 60th annual NBA All-Star Game

Hollywood meets the hardwood on Sunday at Staples Center when the league's best from the East and West clash in the 60th annual NBA All-Star Game.

Sunday's contest will be the record fifth time that the mid-season classic has
emanated from Southern California, dating back to 1963 when legendary Celtics
coach Red Auerbach and his long-time stalwart Bill Russell led the East to a
115-108 win at the old Sports Arena.

The game returned nine years later in 1972, this time at the Fabulous Forum,
when the Lakers' own Jerry West was named the game's MVP as the West won a
112-110 nail-biter. The All-Stars returned to the left coast and the Forum in
1983 with the East winning 132-123 behind the Sixers' Julius Erving, who was
named MVP. Just over 20 years later, the West evened things in LA at Staples
Center in 2004 with a 136-132 triumph behind then-Laker Shaquille O'Neal.

This year's version features a lot of familiar faces as well as some fresh
ones on the Western side.

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who missed last year's game with a balky ankle,
was this season's leading vote-getter in the All-Star Balloting program with
2,380,016 votes. The selection was Bryant's 13th consecutive and he now trails
only West, Karl Malone and O'Neal for the all-time record of 14 straight nods.

Bryant, the youngest All-Star in NBA history in 1998, and the All-Star MVP in
2002 and 2007, and co-MVP along with O'Neal in 2009, will be joined in the
Western Conference starting backcourt by the New Orleans Hornets' Chris Paul,
a four-time All-Star that paces the league in steals (2.47 spg) while ranking
fourth in assists (9.6 apg).

Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the NBA's leading scorer, will make his first
All-Star Game start in the frontcourt, alongside Denver's Carmelo Anthony.

"Just to be a starter in this game alongside these great players is an honor
for me; to get voted in by the fans is a dream come true," Durant said. "I'm
just taking it all in and enjoying it and relaxing a bit. It's a busy weekend
but fun at the same time."

Anthony, meanwhile, could very well be making one of his final appearances as
a member of the Nuggets with rumors heating up that the New York native will
be traded to either the Knicks or New Jersey by next Thursday's deadline.

Rounding out the West's starting five will be San Antonio big man Tim Duncan,
who will be playing in his 13th straight All-Star game and making his 12th
consecutive start. Duncan, originally selected as a reserve, was inserted into
the starting lineup to replace the injured Yao Ming (stress fracture, left
ankle) of Houston, not a surprise since the veteran's mentor in San Antonio,
Gregg Popovich, will pilot the West squad.

"It's great. It's unbelievable," Duncan said of his latest All-Star nod. "It's
got a lot more to do with what we have done as a team than anything I've done
individually this year. I'm out there representing all of the work that our
guys have done this year to get the record that we have and to be playing the
way we have."

Pau Gasol of the two-time defending champion Lakers and Clippers rookie Blake
Griffin, the 2011 slam dunk champion, highlighted the reserve selections for
the West.

Joining Gasol and Griffin, the first rookie since Yao in 2003 to be named an
All-Star, on the West are Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, the Thunder's Russell
Westbrook, the only player in the NBA averaging at least 22.0 points, 8.0
assists and 5.0 rebounds, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, Utah's Deron Williams,
along with Minnesota double-double machine Kevin Love, who was selected by NBA
commissioner David Stern as Yao's injury replacement.

On the Eastern Conference side, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the second
leading vote-getter overall with 2,099,204, will handle the pivot for coach
Doc Rivers.

"It's the best weekend that we could have for the players, just being around
all of the All Stars and the rookies and sophomores," Howard said of the All-
Star atmosphere.  "Just the whole experience, it's the best."

Joining Howard in the East starting lineup at forward are the Miami Heat's
LeBron James, the 2006 and 2008 All-Star Game MVP, and the New York Knicks'
Amare Stoudemire. Rivers' backcourt will feature the Heat's Dwyane Wade, last
year's All-Star Game MVP, alongside the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose, who
earned his first All-Star game start and is the only player in the league to
rank in the top 10 in  both scoring (eighth at 24.5 ppg) and assists (ninth at
8.2 apg).

The bench will be very familiar to Rivers as it features 80 percent of the
Celtics' starting lineup, forwards Kevin Garnett, earning his record-tying
14th straight All-Star selection, and Paul Pierce, along with guards Rajon
Rondo and Ray Allen. Rounding out the East squad are Atlanta teammates Al
Horford and Joe Johnson, and the Heat's Chris Bosh.

"I don't think you can go wrong with the guys we have out there on the floor,"
Allen said when asked about all the Celtics on the East squad. "If we are
playing together in the fourth quarter, Kevin could be the 5-man and you could
go me, Rondo, Paul, LeBron.  There's just so many possibilities.  So it will
be fun."

In the 2010 annual event, Dallas native Bosh, then of the Toronto Raptors, hit
two free throws with five seconds remaining, boosting the East to a 141-139
victory over the West before a record crowd of 108,713 at Cowboys Stadium.
The attendance at Jerry Jones' palace just outside Dallas set a mark
for the largest crowd to ever watch a basketball game.

Wade garnered MVP honors by scoring 28 points, recording 11 assists, six
rebounds and five steals. James, who was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers
at the time, added 25 points, while Bosh finished with 23 points and 10
boards.

Anthony had 27 points and 10 rebounds for the West, but his three-point try at
the buzzer grazed the front of the rim as he was defended by Wade.

The starters for Sunday's contest were determined by the fans' votes, while
the 30 head coaches in the NBA voted for the reserves in their respective
conferences.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

The All-Star format is all about athleticism and the ability to excel in the
spacing of an open floor. As you might expect, Bryant and James have dominated
recent All-Star games, combining for four of the last five MVP awards, with
Wade, another superlative open court performer, breaking that string in last
year's game.

Since Bryant was out of the picture after earning his third career All-Star
MVP back in 2009 in Phoenix and this year's game is on his home floor, you
have to feel like he has an excellent shot of garnering yet another award.
Home court always tends to mean a lot in these games since players like to
feed the local favorites and fuel the energy of the crowd. So, also pay plenty
of attention to Bryant's teammate, Gasol, as well as the Clippers' Griffin.

Durant is also worth mentioning since he remains the best pure scorer in the
game and can fill it up faster than anyone else.

For the East, keep your eye on the Heat's contingent. James, who earned his
second MVP in 2008 and could also have easily taken last year's award, is
tailor-made for this type of environment as the game's best pure physical
specimen. Meanwhile, Wade's athleticism and ability to finish is a perfect fit
for this type of setting as evidenced by the 2010 contest.

According to an NBA.com fan poll, 30 percent of fans think James will take MVP
honors, while hometown hero Bryant finished a close second at 28 percent and
Durant netted 18 percent.


NOTABLE

- James and Wade are the first set of teammates to start an All-Star Game for
the Eastern Conference since Wade and O'Neal represented the Heat in 2007 in
Las Vegas.

- Six international players were selected for this year's All-Star Game:
Ginobili (Argentina), Yao (China), Horford (Dominican Republic), Duncan (U.S.
Virgin Islands), Gasol (Spain), and Nowitzki (Germany).

-Bryant is seventh all-time in NBA history with 207 All-Star points and will
have a chance to move past Elgin Baylor (218), Erving (221) and Bob Pettit
(224) this year. The top three are Michael Jordan (262), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
(251) and Oscar Robertson (246). James, meanwhile, is the all-time leader in
scoring average for players who have toiled in three or more All-Star games at
23.7 points per contest.

-Allen, who recently surpassed Reggie Miller to become the NBA's leading all-
time three-point shooter, is also the top long-range marksman in All-Star
history with 64. well ahead of Bryant, who is second with 48.

- The East leads the all-time series by a 36-23 margin. There was no All-Star
game in 1999 due to the lockout.


ALL-STAR WEEKEND

The game, of course, caps a busy weekend of activity for the NBA.

All-Star Saturday Night was highlighted by Griffin's amazing performance in
the Dunk Contest. The presumptive Rookie of the Year topped Washington's
JaVale McGee in the final after leaping over the hood of a car to complete his
last slam.

The two advanced to the final round in an event that was part dunk contest and
part theater, and full of creativity. Griffin received 68 percent of the vote
from fans to come away the winner. For Griffin's final slam, a Kia Optima was
brought onto the court as his dunk advisor, TNT analyst Kenny Smith, spoke to
the crowd. The four-door sedan was set up horizontally in the lane with
Griffin's teammate, Baron Davis, inside with the ball.

As if that was not enough, Smith brought a gospel choir to the court. With it
singing the song, "I Believe I Can Fly," Griffin leaped over the hood of the
car, caught the ball that Davis sent through the sunroof, and threw down a
two-handed slam.

And that was only one dunk. It was by far the most elaborate of the night, in
terms of props, and left little excitement for McGee, who closed the contest
with a right-handed slam off a backboard bounce. The results were announced
shortly thereafter.

While Griffin's final dunk was the most elaborate, it was hardly the only
creative dunk of the night. In addition to Griffin and McGee, Toronto's DeMar
DeRozan and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka competed in the event.
All were matched up with a coach of sorts, to help create innovative dunks.

Prior to the dunk contest, the Miami Heat's James Jones won the Three-Point
Contest, Golden State second- year guard Stephen Curry won the Skills
Challenge, and the Atlanta team, comprised of Hawks center Horford, NBA
analyst Steve Smith and Atlanta Dream star Coco Miller, won the Shooting Stars
event.

Also, Iowa's Courtney Sims scored 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting on his way
to earning his second NBA D-League All-Star MVP Trophy as the East downed the
East, 115-108 in the 2011 NBA D-League All-Star Game. Maine's DeShawn Sims
added 20 points for the East All-Stars, while Sean Williams of the Texas
Legends, the 17th overall pick of the 2007 NBA Draft, led the West with 21
points.

The festivities kicked off Friday night in spectacular fashion when Wall
dished out a Rookie Challenge-record 22 assists, as the first- year players
topped the sophomores, 148-140, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was
the highest-scoring game between the rookies and sophomores. The first-
year players won the game for the second straight year after a string of seven
straight victories for the sophomores.

Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins scored 33 to go with 14 rebounds, while
Minnesota's Wes Johnson totaled 25 points for the winners. James Harden of the
Thunder scored 30 and San Antonio's DeJuan Blair contributed 28 and 15 boards
for the sophomores.

Also Friday, teen singing sensation Justin Bieber was named MVP of the All-
Star celebrity game, this despite his West squad suffering a 54-49 loss to the
East. Bieber totaled eight points, four assists and a pair of rebounds. Hall
of Famer Scottie Pippen led the East team with 17 points.

The NBA's D-League also put its best forward on Friday night as Dar Tucker of
the New Mexico Thunderbirds, Booker Woodfox of the Texas Legends and the NBA
D-League Shooting Stars team of Shane Edwards (New Mexico Thunderbirds), Orien
Greene (Utah Flash) and Jeremy Wise (Bakersfield Jam) all came away victorious
at the fourth annual D-League skills competition.
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