East All-Stars-West All-Stars Preview

The last All-Star game in Houston was a glimpse of what Miami

Heat games would become.

LeBron James scored 29 points and was the MVP. Dwyane Wade added

20 and made the go-ahead basket to cap a huge comeback, and the

Eastern Conference beat the West 122-120 in 2006.

”I had a pretty good experience the first time around, looking

for the same thing this time,” Wade said Friday.

The way things are going for the Heat, why not?

And think about this: James was already the best player that

night, and he was nowhere near the player he is today.

”I’m a better player. At that point in time, I wasn’t a

complete basketball player. I couldn’t shoot as well as I can now,

I never posted up back then,” James said. ”More games, more

playoff games, more knowledge. You continue to learn each and every

day, it makes you a better player. That’s what you want, to become

a better player. That’s what I want. I want to be the greatest of

all-time. I try to do whatever it takes to get me in that

position.

”Seven years, I’ve tried to improve each and every year.”

Back where they first teamed up as All-Stars, Wade, James and

Chris Bosh will start together for the East on Sunday night,

another highlight for the NBA champions.

Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t

having nearly as much fun in a season so disappointing that Bryant

was asked Friday if the All-Star weekend was a ”retreat” for

him.

”I don’t know if it’s a retreat, it’s just more of an

opportunity to get some rest, regroup, put the first half of the

season behind us and move on,” he said.

As Wade knows, the All-Star break can be just that – a break –

from a forgettable season.

He arrived for the 2008 All-Star game with a 9-43 record after

the Heat lost on Valentine’s Day to the Chicago Bulls, on their way

to a 15-win debacle just two years after they won the NBA

title.

”I put all that aside, though, and I came and I enjoyed the

weekend, and when I went back to Miami, it was like, `Oh my God,

we’re back in it,”’ Wade said. ”But All-Star weekend, you just

enjoy being an All-Star. You enjoy being around the guys. You can

kind of forget about that a little bit, unless you have the cameras

and the microphones in front of you asking you questions about it,

but besides that you try to enjoy it.”

This time, the Heat celebrated Valentine’s Day in Oklahoma City

with a 110-100 victory over the Thunder, the team they beat in five

games last summer for the title. They have won seven in a row,

James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, and

they can relax and reminisce as they return to Houston.

”It’s really indescribable,” Bosh said, ”just to not only win

a championship with great guys, be in a great locker room, and just

to have fun doing it, but just to be an All-Star every year, play

with great teammates. I mean to play in front of a lot people in

arenas every night. I don’t take those things for granted.”

James just ran off an NBA-record six straight games with at

least 30 points and 60 percent shooting from the field, and seems

to be distancing himself from anyone else that can take the MVP

award he won last year for the third time in four years.

”He’s doing well,” Bosh said in a Texas-sized understatement.

”That’s the best way to put it.”

Bosh was chosen as a starter Friday by Heat coach Erik

Spoelstra, who will lead the East. He replaces Boston guard Rajon

Rondo, who pulled out with a torn ACL.

Rounding out the starting five for the East with the Heat trio

are New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who is second in the

league in scoring at 28.6 points per game and Rondo’s teammate

Kevin Garnett, who recently became the 16th player in league

history to surpass 25,000 career points.

Bryant and Howard are still here, away from a Los Angeles season

that’s been anything but a Hollywood story.

Considered a title contender after acquiring Howard and Steve

Nash in the summer, the Lakers fell to 25-29 after they were blown

out Wednesday by the rival Clippers, who opened a 13-game lead over

them in the Pacific Division standings.

Smiling as he sat with his daughter, Natalia, Bryant laughed

that he wished the All-Star break was a chance for the Lakers to

”hit the reset button” on what he’s said has been a most

difficult season.

”Hopefully there’s an easy button like in the commercial when

we come back in the second half of the season and things are a

little easier for us,” he said.

Howard has battled injuries to his back and shoulder and has

been nothing like the player who has been the NBA’s dominant big

man in recent years. He said at times he hasn’t been having fun and

has tried to ignore all the bad news around the team.

”You just try to stay away from the tube and do as much as I

can to rehab my back and my shoulder and my mind, and really just

get away from everything when I’m not playing basketball,” he

said.

If he’s looking for a chance to enjoy himself this season, it

may get no better than the next few days.

”It’s a great weekend, it’s an unbelievable weekend for the

fans to be able to put all their favorite players together in one

venue,” James said. ”We have a great time with it.”

The West will have two pairs of teammates in its starting five

as the other Los Angeles team – the Clippers – will be represented

by point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin. Oklahoma City

Thunder forward Kevin Durant, the NBA’s top scorer at 29.2 points

per game and 2012 All-Star Game MVP, is the other starter.