NBA All-Star game just an exhibition? Think again.

Special to
Feb. 18, 2011

So you think that the NBA All-Star Game is nothing but an entertaining exhibition showcasing the NBA’s best of the best for that particular season?


Surprisingly, a number of this year’s stars shot down that supposition when asked if the spectacular slated for Staples Center in Los Angeles Sunday was a game for the fans and nothing else.

(For an up-close look at some of those NBA All-Stars as they spoke to reporters, CLICK HERE.)

“We definitely want to win the game and we take it seriously, especially down the stretch,” says Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, playing in his 13th All-Star Game. “That’s when you see guys really turn it up. There’s trash-talking going on (in the locker room), about wanting to (beat) the East, there’s also some trash-talking amongst the guys on our team about who’s best in the West.”

Bryant went on to talk about the pride involved in winning the ASG, but also about the pride involved in being the best in the league.

“I hear a lot of (back and forth) going on between the guys, about whose team is best. That kind of stuff,” Bryant said. “Not me, though. I’m not the trash-talker,” unable to keep a straight face with that last statement. Bryant, of course, is known for getting in any player’s face, teammate or opponent.

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki agreed with Kobe’s assessment about the tone of the game.

“Both sides want to win, ultimately, while still showing the fans a good time,” said the 10-time All-Star. “It is a weekend for the fans.  But there’s always a little chatter going on, which happens when you’re spending time with the best players in the world in the same room.

“That’s what makes this whole thing fun.”

Orlando’s Dwight Howard  agreed, saying “the whole weekend experience is great and it’s a good time for the fans. But make no mistake — we are serious about winning the game. When it comes time to end it, all of our competitiveness comes out.”

Last year in snowy Dallas, the Eastern Conference held on for a hard-fought 141-139 win over the Western Conference before a record crowd of over 108,000 (not a misprint) in Cowboys Stadium. Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat won the MVP award with 28 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds. His current Heat and ASG teammate, LeBron James, had 25. Carmelo Anthony led the West with 27 points.  Nowitzki of the host Mavs added 22.

The game was actually tied at 139 with 7.7 seconds left, but a Chauncey Billups foul put Chris Bosh on the line, where he hit the game-winning free throws. Carmelo Anthony had a chance for a miracle three-pointer for the win, but missed, leaving Nowitzki and friends with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths.

“Down the stretch in the fourth quarter, the intensity usually picks up,” said Nowitzki. “Last year the East got the best of us down the stretch. Hopefully this year we can turn that around,”

The conferences have split the last ten All-Star Games, but the East holds a commanding 36-23 lead in the series.

If the West is to bounce back from last year’s disappointment, they’ll do it with a combination of experience, youth and All-Star newbies.

Bryant and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan are the true ASG vets with 13 appearances apiece, followed by Nowitzki’s 10. The youth has Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul all competing in their fourth All-Star Games, while Kevin Durant heads for his second shot, along with the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili and Utah’s Deron Williams.

San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich gets to coach three first-timers — Blake Griffin of the Clippers, Kevin Love from Minnesota and OKC’s Russell Westbrook. Love and Westbrook played their brief collegiate just down the road from Staples Center at UCLA.

(For Joe McDonnell’s take on Blake Griffin’s inclusion in the All-Star festivities, CLICK HERE.)

The East, however, is quite the opposite.

Boston’s Doc Rivers has four of his Celtics on the team — Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. They’ve played in a combined 35 ASGs. He also has The Big Three from Miami — LeBron, Wade and Bosh, veterans of 20 All-Star appearances. With the exception of starter Derrick Rose of the Bulls, Atlanta’s Al Horford and Rondo (all with two), no one on the East roster has less than five ASGs under their belts.  

But experience may be negated by the fact that Griffin is virtually unstoppable, and Westbrook is a blur going up the court, which will help a Western Conference fast break that was outscored 56-24 in last year’s game.

And they also have the greatest closer in the game ready to fire away at the East down the stretch.

“You know I like having the ball with the game on the line,” said Kobe, who was earlier surrounded by a media contingent 7-8 deep and a total of well over 100 in a hotel ballroom. “But with all the great players on this team hopefully we can win this before the last seconds or minutes of the game.

“This weekend is sorta becoming like (the Super Bowl) in terms of public reaction. It’s grown into that, I think.

“Putting on the best possible show for our fans is important. But we’re here to win. No doubt.”

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