Firepower is centered in the West

Firepower is centered in the West

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NBA ALL-STAR GAME:

East faces a formidable front line that could include O’Neal, Duncan and Garnett.

y By Phil Collin

According to official statistics kept by the NBA, Rick Carlisle spent the 1985-86 season handing teammate Larry Bird 542 cups of water during the Boston Celtics’ championship season.

The appreciative and well-hydrated Bird, now the president of the Indiana Pacers, still has Carlisle running errands for him as coach.

Today, we’ll see if Carlisle, as the Eastern Conference coach, has a game plan that holds water against the Western Conference in the 53rd NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center.

The West, which has produced the last five NBA champions, is the heavy favorite. That’s easy to say because the first backup center off the bench for Coach Flip Saunders of the Minnesota Timberwolves will be Shaquille O’Neal.

While the East has its share of firepower, virtually no one is counting on one of its teams to challenge San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota, Dallas or the Lakers for the NBA title this season.

But Carlisle is holding his ground.

“If you look at the matchups between East and West, you’re seeing the East win more games,” Carlisle said. “There’s probably more parity, but I just haven’t analyzed it that much.”

The first All-Star Game in Los Angeles since Julius Erving was the MVP at the Forum in 1983 is a healthy mix of the established stars, the future of the league and its international presence.

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant joins Houston’s Steve Francis in the backcourt for the West, with forwards Tim Duncan of San Antonio and Kevin Garnett of Minnesota. Duncan was last year’s regular-season MVP and Garnett is on the fast track to win it this season.

The center is the Rockets’ Yao Ming, the 7-foot-6 native of China who was excited to earn the starting nod over O’Neal, so much so that he will revel in hearing his favorite American song an extra time this season.

“I like the national anthem,” Yao said. “I listen to it at least 82 times a year.”

Starting for the East are guards Allen Iverson of Philadelphia and Tracy McGrady of Orlando, forwards Vince Carter of Toronto and Jermaine O’Neal of Indiana, with shot-blocking specialist Ben Wallace of Detroit in the middle.

But figure the game will turn when O’Neal enters the game to take on a first-time All-Star in the middle, New Orleans’ Jamaal Magloire.

This is the last time such a collection of NBA stars will be in the same competition until this summer’s Olympics in Greece. But today won’t have that kind of intensity, or as many put it, defense.

Among the new faces are defensive specialists from each conference: Ron Artest of Indiana and Andrei Kirilenko of Utah.

At least one of them promised to employ his usual game plan today.

“Everybody says I don’t need to play defense in the All-Star Game, but that’s my game,” Kirilenko said.

Then there’s Artest.

“I could waste all of my energy on offense and show people the offensive game I have,” he said.

In addition to the two Lakers stars, Southern California is well represented. Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, the former Daily Breeze Player of the Year at Inglewood High, is making his third All- Star appearance.

But it’s his first in which he’s had to shell out a few bucks for tickets.

“I got 15 tickets. These All-Star tickets tend to get expensive, so I told everybody who didn’t get All-Star tickets that I’d get them a ticket when we play the Clippers next week.

“This is just as good as my first All-Star Game. To be able to come back home and play in front of family and friends and people I grew up with, it’s like a dream come true.”

Former Crossroads School and UCLA standout Baron Davis of New Orleans is in his second All-Star Game and his smile lights up when talking about this weekend.

“I think it’s a huge accomplishment,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there in front of my family and friends and put on a show. I’m real honored just to be a part of it.”

O’Neal, making his eighth All-Star appearance (he’s been selected 11 times), is the most experienced of the stars. In the East, Jason Kidd is making his seventh appearance, but was third in voting among the guards.

“Well, I’m going to work this summer on my dunking and I’m going to try not to pass as much and become more of a scorer. Maybe that would get me in as a starter,” joked Kidd, the NBA’s active leader in triple-doubles.

There will plenty of dunks to go around, and perhaps even one by the undrafted Brad Miller, who was an Eastern All-Star a year ago with Indiana and now this year with Sacramento, as he has helped hold down the Kings’ fort as Chris Webber works his way back from knee surgery.

What does it say for his game that he’s been an All-Star in each conference?

“I got traded,” he said.

NBA ALL STAR GAME

– TODAY: NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center, 5 p.m.

– TV/RADIO: TNT, KSPN (710 AM)

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.