All Star Game: West Dominates, Kobe Named MVP


LAS VEGAS - Lots of glitz, not quite enough glamour.

Hey, that's one of the laws of Vegas: Everything doesn't come up aces all the time.

In an All-Star game that'll end up being remembered for the location where it was played than anything else, the Western Conference stormed to a commanding first-half lead behind 17 points from Kobe Bryant and cruised past the Eastern Conference 153-132 Sunday in a showcase game that came up sorely lacking in suspense and with only brief flashes of showmanship.

"Hey, I'm happy with the way it came out. I'm not into suspense from where I was sitting," West coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It was a good feeling on the West side. I'm not so sure about the other side."

Not that the players didn't try, playing the usual all-offense, no-defense style seen annually in the league's midseason classic. But this one just wasn't a classic, devoid of a showstopping performance from any one player ... even that All-Star showboating mainstay, the Big Methuselah, Shaquille O'Neal, whose best moves came a day earlier when be put on a breakdancing exhibition at the Eastern Conference practice that will have a longer shelf life on the Internet than any snapshots from Sunday's game.

O'Neal's only attempt at being a showstopper came early in the fourth quarter when he isolated at the top of the key and showed his ballhandling skills as he tried to take Mehmet Okur one-on-one. But when Shaq pulled up for a 17-footer, the ball spun sideways out of his hand and clanged off the rim.

Bryant was chosen MVP of the game for the second time in his career, finishing with 31 points, six assists, six steals and five rebounds. Last year's All-Star MVP, LeBron James, led the east with 28 points.

"He deserved it," D'Antoni said of Bryant, joking that he never considered benching Bryant late in the game to help Amare Stoudemire's MVP prospects. "We still have to play them a bunch more."

"He deserved it. He played hard every minute."

Stoudemire scored 29 for the West, Carmelo Anthony had 20, Shawn Marion scored 18 and Tracy McGrady dished out 11 assists for the West, which led by as many as 33.

A brief chant of "M-V-P" was even heard for Bryant just as he was driving in for a reverse windmill dunk that gave him the last of his points with 30 seconds left.

"There was one star who was the brightest of them all," commissioner David Stern said in handing Bryant the MVP trophy.

"We had a good time, it was a pretty good weekend, and hopefully we put on a good show," Bryant said. "Hopefully we can come back."

Following an opening act that included Wayne Newton preceding the player introductions by performing Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" and James Brown's "I Feel Good", another Vegas icon, singer and impressionist Danny Gans performed the National Anthem. Unlike a year ago in Houston, the All-Stars didn't have any coordinated dance moves ready to go. The showmanship this time came from Deeeeetroit Pistons p.a. announcer John Mason, whose best intro line was for Gilbert Arenas: "Agent Zero, shooting hero."

As the players came out to center court for the opening tip, the only two who did not acknowledge each other were Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, whose exchange of verbal jabs over who won and who lost last year's finals seems to have spawned a genuine mutual dislike.

As is the case in most All-Star games, it took a few possessions before any of the players came up with anything thrilling. In fact, there was a substitution ... D'Antoni subbing UNLV's Marion in for Dirk Nowitzki less than four minutes in ... before there was any kind of a highlight reel play.

But those moments started coming soon enough, Bryant and Wade executing back-to-back showcase dunks at opposite ends of the court, the latter coming off a nifty feed from James just before the first commercial timeout. James later tried a self-alley-oop pass off the backboard, and he took a bit of a scary fall after failing to convert the dunk but got up without any harm done.

Vince Carter had the next two feats of note, ramming down a hard dunk after spinning 360 degrees to his right ... reminiscent of the contest-winning dunk he pulled off in Oakland a few years back ... then converting an off-the-backboard alley-oop pass from Chauncey Billups with another vicious flush.

O'Neal tried to get in on the act early in the second quarter but missed a two-handed slam, only to quickly get the loose ball back and dunk it through with stanchion-rattling authority. Before turning to run upcourt, O'Neal leaned over and planted a kiss on the top of McGrady's head.

But alas, this is Vegas, and since they say "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas," we'll write it off as one of many acts of outrageousness ... almost all of them confined to the party scene, the casinos and the Strip, that defined the first weekend when the NBA took its All-Star game to a non-NBA city.

It's just too bad that the Sin City setting didn't produce a game that was special. It's such a larger-than-life city, you expected better.

But again, everything in Vegas doesn't always go as the visitors planned, which is why, after all, they build all those big casinos here.