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Good evening, Forum Blue and Gold. This is Phillip Barnett checking in from Houston. I’m in the Toyota Center for the festivities and I’ll be live-blogging all of the events tonight with updates from Texas. Make sure to check back here every 10-15 minutes for new content and follow me on twitter (@imsohideouss) for more frequent quips about All Star Saturday Night.

SHOOTING STARS COMPETITION

7:37 – James Harden’s team kicks this off the Shooting Stars challenge with a solid time of 37.7. They were my favorites coming into this. Westbrook’s team came right in and obliterated their score with a nice 29.5.

The scoring for this competition is a bit awkward as it’s East v. West — so the two times are added for a total of 107.4. Both Western Conference teams didn’t take much time to make the half court shot, I’m not sure if the Eastern Conference is going to replicate the West’s performance.

7:44 – Chris Bosh’s team didn’t exactly come out hot, and finished with a 50-second mark meaning Brook Lopez’s team would need a 17.3 to beat the Western Conference. Eh… not happening. Not only did they not hit the 17-second mark, they ended up with the worst time of the night of 1:07, the same score of the two Western Conference teams combined.

The Western Conference earns 20 points toward the overall conference competition. There is $500,000 worth of charity donations at stake for the winning conference. The West has jumped out to an early lead.

7:53 – For the championship round, Chris Bosh’s team had a worse performance than their first round with a time of 1:29. Dominique Wilkins, a career 31 percent three point shooter, was tasked with hitting the first three for the East, but took a boat load of shots to knock it down. Gothic Ginobili’s Adam Koscielac tweeted this gem:

However, the Russell Westbrook squad couldn’t hit a half court shot after getting off to a huge start early. They got to the half court shot after only about 20 seconds. The Eastern Conference wins 10 points in the overall competition for winning the championship. The West still leads 20-10.

After winning the Shooting Stars competition, Chris Bosh was asked to compare the win to winning the title.”It was so close. It’s so close. Winning is winning, but, you know, it was a good time,” said Bosh. “This is my first time participating in it. So to actually win is pretty cool.”

Here’s the winning round of the Shooting Stars competition, courtesy of SportsCity.com.

SKILLS COMPETITION

8:06 – Jeff Teague didn’t get things off to a great start for the Eastern Conference. He started off missing passes, then took a few attempts to make the jumper, then missed a few more passes, then missed the layup to end the night. His 49.4 was easily eclipsed by Brandon Knight’s 32.2. He missed a few jumpers, but he has a pretty clean round. Drew Holiday was even cleaner with only one missed shot. Holiday’s final time was 29.3, which moves him into the championship round. The combined time is 150.9, which is what the Western Conference will have to surpass to win the team competition.

8:13 – The hometown favorite Jeremy Lin didn’t get off to the best start with a time of 35.8, but he got the Western Conference off to a better start than the Eastern Conference. Damien Lillard had the cleanest round of the night with no missed shots or passes. His total time was 28.8. Tony Parker, the defending champion, ended up with the worst time of the night with 48.7 and lost the team competition for the Western Conference. The Eastern Conference now has a 40-20.

8:21 – Jrue Holiday got the championship round started off with a sub-par 35.6 round. He missed an early pass and a couple jump shots to put him in a tough spot. Damien Lillard, who is the front runner for rookie of the year, had a much quicker round of 29.8. He missed two passes and one jump shot, but was much quicker from spot-to-spot and gave the Western Conference annother 10 points. The East is still leading though, 40-30.

Here’s Damien Lillard’s winning round in the Skills Competition:

Zach Harper tweeted this brilliant idea for the Skills Competition:

These tweets on Phillip Phillips’ performance were fun:

THREE-POINT SHOOT OUT

8:42 – Stephen Curry got off to a pretty slow start in the 3-point shoot out, but picked things up in the last two racks to finish with 17. Ryan Anderson was the exact opposite. He started off hot, but cooled off at the third rack, yet he still finished with more than Curry with 18. Bonner started off 5-5 after the first rack and ended on top for the Western Conference with 19 points. That’s an overall total score of 54 for the Western Conference. That’s the standard that the Eastern Conference is going to beat. Bonner’s has one of the most mechanically pure forms I’ve ever seen.

8:53 – The Eastern Conference off to another slow start, this time in the 3-point contest. Kyrie Irving got things started off with 18 points, and watch as Paul George only record 10 points and Steve Novak only record 17, even after a pretty hot start. The Eastern Conference surrenders 40 points to the West after their poor performance in the team round. The score heading into the championship is 70-40.

9:00 – In the championship round, Kyrie Irving was hitting early and often. He finished with an overall score of 23 — two off off the all time record. Matt Bonner got off to a slow start, heated up, but couldn’t knock down a key money ball on the fourth rack to keep him close. The Red Mamba finished with 20 points and Kyrie’s excellent All-Star Weekend continues. I enjoyed this Josh Zavdil tweet during Kyrie’s run.

Here’s Kyrie Irving’s winning round from the 3-point contest.

DUNK CONTEST

9:26 – Gerald Green got things started with a sick off the side of the back board alley-oop. He almost hit his head on the rim. It was pretty absurd and it earned him a perfect 50. Up next was James White, he walked into the arena with a flight crew and had the biggest buzz before his dunk. Unfortunately, he was a bit disappointing with a free throw line dunk from a foot and a half in front of the line. His leaping ability is impressive, but the dunk was underwhelming considering what we’ve seen in the past. Last for the Eastern Conference was Terrance Ross with a slick behind the back 360 that earned him a perfect 50.

For the Western Conference, there wasn’t anything too impressive. Kenneth Faried threw it off the backboard, caught it after a 360, but jammed it down kind of weak. Eric Bledsoe tried to throw one down from an alley-oop between the legs, but failed on a few attempts before throwing down a regular dunk. Jeremy Evans was the most impressive with grabbing the ball from a sitting Mark Eaton and throwing down a reverse on the other side of the rim.

9:39 – The second round of dunks for the Eastern Conference were pretty unimpressive. Both James White and Gerald Green failed to make their dunk while Terrance Ross made a pretty simple off the bounce self alley-oop dunk. The Western Conference was much better. Faried caught an alley-oop and threw it between his legs before throwing it down. Eric Bledsoe caught a self alley-oop and 360’d before throwing it through the iron. Jeremy Evans grabbed two balls and dunked them both after a 360. The WC dunks gave them the team competition win and a 140-70 lead.

10:03 – The final round showed some pretty impressive dunks. Jeremy Evans got things started off by dunking over a covered easel. After the dunk, he revealed a painting of him dunking over an easel. Ross followed that up by putting on a Vince Carter jersey and caught a pass off the side of the back board and threw down a 360 a la young VC.

The second round of dunks saw Evans catch a pass from Dahntay Jones and nearly jumped through the roof before throwing it down. Ross brought out a ball boy and jumped over him while going between the legs for the jam.

Ross ended up winning the dunk contest after the fan vote and the Western Conference ended up winning the conference battle. Check out some of the better dunks from tonight’s performances:

Terrance Ross Behind the back 360

Kenneth Faried through the legs

Eric Bledsoe sick reverse jam

Halfway (well, 65.8%, but who’s counting) through its annual marathon, the NBA bestows upon its rank-and-file (players, coaches, hell, fans) a much-needed four-day respite from the mental and physical grind of 82 in ~175. In 2013, nowhere is this midseason oasis more welcome than in Lakerland, where, in depressingly short order, euphoria and stratospheric expectations have devolved into the most disappointing campaign in franchise history, a nightly nut-punch mad lib on the floor outdone only by incessant upheaval behind closed doors.

On a far brighter note, the NBA convenes this weekend in Houston, to celebrate its present and future, flaunt its athletic wares and, presumably, provide tuition assistance to certain ilk of “law student.” Last night, behind 40, on an unreal-even-against-All-Star-D 18-for-22 from the field, and 10 rebounds by the Nuggets’ Kenneth Faried and 20 apiece from Cavs and Spurs sophs Tristan Thompson and Kawhi Leonard (who also had 10 and 7 rebounds, respectively), Team Chuck laid the wood to Team Shaq in a still-entertaining Rising Stars Challenge. This evening, the All Star festivities shift into top gear, with the always-meh Shooting Stars, underrated (seriously, I love it) Skills Challenge and All Star Saturday mainstays, the 3-point and slam dunk contests.

Though likely for the best, given the manner in which the pas three months have unfolded, conspicuously absent from tonight’s proceedings will be the Los Angeles Lakers.  Not here! Infusing your day with memories of brighter days, a look back at the Lakers on All Star Saturdays past:

1984 Slam Dunk Contest

Three decades ago, the NBA lifted a(nother) page from the ABA playbook with a revival of the slam dunk contest. Fittingly, the event (re)debuted in the Rockies, where eight years earlier, at halftime of the 1976 ABA All-Star Game, a Spurs’ greats George Gervin and Larry Kenon, Kentucky Colonel Artis Gilmore, Denver’s own David Thompson and then-New York Net Julius Erving. The Doctor returned to headline the nine-man field, which included the preeminent perimeter defender of his (and maybe all) time and author of many a Coop-a-Loop, Michael Cooper. Suffice it to say, the Lakers’ inaugural All-Star Saturday performance was less than auspicious:

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Though still immortalized:

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1987 3-Point Contest

Three years after the slam dunk dud of ’84, Coop was back at All-Star Saturday, this time to take part in the second annual Larry Bird Invitational, err, 3-Point Contest. Accompanying Cooper to Seattle for the festivities was fellow sharpshooter Byron Scott. In a star-studded eight-man field featuring a who’s who of the game’s great shooters – and Danny Ainge (some grudges die hard) – Scott stumbled, while Cooper more than held his own, outscoring Bird, Dale Ellis and future three-time contest champ Craig Hodges in Round 1, before exiting in the Semifinals, the third place finisher.

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1988 3-Point Contest

This time flying solo, Byron Scott returned to the 3-Point Contest the following year in Chicago. Scott rather emphatically avenged the previous year’s last place finish with a first round performance that paced a similarly power-packed field. Not surprisingly, as the stakes ratcheted up, so did Larry Bird’s performance. Though light years behind Bird, Scott and Dale Ellis engaged in battle for the second spot in the final round, with Ellis advancing by the narrowest of margins.

Is it wrong that this burns me up as much as any Lakers-Celtics battle of which we were deprived?

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1994 Rookie Game

In a stirring homage to Michael Cooper’s showing the inaugural NBA slam dunk contest a year earlier, in the first-ever (at the time) Rookie Game, Nick Van Exel, in 20 minutes of burn, handed out six assists but turned in a rather impressive goose egg, whiffing on all eight of his shots (have you seen the defense in these things?!?), including three 3-point attempts. Oof. Let’s move on.

1995 Rookie Game

The Lakers’ first-ever lottery pick, the unheralded Eddie Jones (selected #10 overall in the 1994 draft) had quickly established himself as not only one of the league’s best young players, he’d almost immediately etched his name in the NBA’s top tier of perimeter defenders. This NBA ready defense, along with his stellar athleticism in slashing to the bucket earned him an invite to the second annual Rookie Game, where, sharing the floor with the top two picks in the draft, Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd (Grant Hill had been voted into the big-boy game), Eddie stole the show, racking up 25 (including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers), six swipes, and handing out four assists en route to the game’s MVP award.

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(I’d planned to include a highlight video of this game, but sadly was only able to find the full telecast, chopped into 20-minute clips. You can find those here.)

1995 Slam Dunk Contest

In the first round of the 1995 Slam Dunk Contest, Antonio Harvey almost set the desert ablaze, but instead became the Andy Reid of All-Star Saturday.

1997 Rookie Game

Far be it for me to gloss over an excellent performance by Young Bean – a then-record 31 points, plus eight rebounds (seven turnovers, though) – but quickly run through this game and you’ll find quite a bit going on.

1997 Slam Dunk Contest

Later that night, Bean returned to floor as the second Laker ever to take part in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest. With the contest on the ropes (it would actually be shelved the following year), the league had implemented the latest of what ultimately became a comedic laundry list of gimmicks, allowing each competitor 90 seconds in Round 1 to do with as he pleased, with the best of two dunks making up his final round score. Sadly, this resulted in our being limited to a scant three dunks by Kobe in his lone appearance in the contest. As one would expect, however, Kobe made good, delivering as emphatic and technically perfect a one-hand reverse as you’ll ever see for an opening salvo. By the way, the whole “keep the warmups on” bit looks a lot cooler when it’s Kobe instead of Brent Barry.

After edging out now-assistant coach Darvin Ham (perhaps owing to a bit of judging generosity, but whatever), Kobe set the house ablaze with a thunderous between-the-legs number – remember, this is before Vince Carter and Jason Richardson made a mockery of the skill – which earned him 49 points and dunking supremacy

(Bonus points for aggressively flexing with the sub-Durant physique and openly cheering Michael Finley’s last miss)

2004 Skills Challenge

Ok, who had Open Court Legend placing second in a competition that rewards speed, quickness, agility and outside shooting?

Seriously, I remember guffawing upon discovering Fisher’s inclusion in this field (in large part, probably, because the Lakers were that year’s host, but still), and simply hoped he could out-duel Earl Boykins and avoid last place. Taking out Boykins, Stephon Marbury (when this was still an impressive thing) and making prime-Baron Davis work in final?

Well played, Fish.

2007 Rising Stars

Really not a lot to say here. 12 points for Jordan Farmar, Andrew Bynum with 7 points and 4 boards in 18 minutes.

2007 Skills Challenge

Anyone else kinda totally forget that this happened?

With the notable exceptions of the Malice at the Palace and the 1984 Draft Lottery, I’m not sure there’s an event the NBA’s worked harder to bury in history than 2007’s All-Star Weekend in Vegas. Without going into detail, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly public relations coup for the league.

That said, it was there that one of the most stealthily cool competitions in ASW history took place. It’s over in a flash (pun possibly intended), and it’d have been awesome if Kobe hadn’t flubbed the opportunity to make a run at Wade’s final time, but simply having Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul – and no one else – in a test of basketball fundamentals is pretty awesome.

2008 Rising Stars

A year after posting a solid, if unspectacular 12 points as a rookie, Jordan Farmar returned to All Star Weekend as an NBA soph, and quietly turned in a stellar playmaking performance. In a game whose narrative was dominated by Kevin Durant (23 and 8), Rudy Gay (22 on just 12 shots), Brandon Roy (17 and 7 assists), LaMarcus Aldridge (18 and 9 rebounds) and MVP Boobie Gibson (33 on 11 threes), Farmar played a central role, feeding (among others) Gibson to the tune of 12 assists, scored 17 points on 10 shots, ripped four steals, and made the play of the game (#8 below).

It might even have been recognized as such had that lob found, say, Kevin Durant instead of Ronnie Brewer.

2010 Slam Dunk Contest

They Let Shannon Dunk. It… was.

Enjoy the festivities everyone – no Laker losses tonight!

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  February 15, 2013

The third episode of L.A.’s hallway series came and went last night. The game was preceded by news about the health of Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss. He’s been a true lion in the league for many years now and one of the enduring truths in life is that our winters inevitably come. As for on-court action, about the best that can be said is that the team gave it a shot. Kobe Bryant had a couple age-defying dunks and 11 assists. Plus the bench put up 41 points so there’s that.

There may be a book written some day about this crazy mixed-up season. It has defied expectations and logic although some will argue the point. There were plenty of warning signs – the notion of banking on a newly-arrived superstar who was still recovering from surgery, the amalgamation of aging players and the very real potential for systematic conflict. Still more may point out that most of us were willing to drink the Kool-Aid. And why not? It tasted just fine at the time and was loaded with incendiary promise. And here we are – the Lakers are in still in tenth place in the west and you can only spin that so many ways for so long.

The NBA All-Star break is sometimes seen as a midway point in the basketball season but it isn’t really. It’s a few days off, a chance for some players to rest their aching limbs and for others to compete and socialize in an annual rite of passage. Both the Lakers and Clippers will be well-represented and when the party’s over, teams will find themselves looking down a shotgun barrel stretch run to the end of the season. For some it won’t really matter – they’re already out of hunt and simply jockeying for draft position. As for the Lakers, they’ll have 28 games left to try and slip through a rapidly-closing window. In the meantime, enjoy the respite – there will be plenty of ASW coverage right here.

All-Star Game Preview & Chat

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2012

It’s finally time for the main event of the weekend.

After a three point contest that saw Kevin Love take out two pure shooters (though, to be fair, both KD and James Jones looked off) and a dunk contest that should immediately be erased from our memories ala Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it will be nice to have an actual game to cheer for.

And really, that’s what today’s game should offer: a chance to cheer. While I want the West to win and would like to see good showings from Kobe and Bynum, this is more about enjoying the incredible amount of talent on the floor as a basketball fan. With all the best players in the league in one place, I don’t see how tonight could really be about anything else.

With that said, I won’t just be watching the action on the floor with an eye for good basketball. There are other things I’ll be watching for as the game unfolds:

  • How hard will Kobe go? Last year I wondered before the contest if Kobe would go after the MVP and my curiousness was well founded as Bean attacked from the opening tip and ended up winning the award for the 4th time. Tonight, though, will he go after it the same way? Last year’s game was in Los Angeles and one of the main backstories heading into the weekend was the Lakers poor play with Kobe’s play serving as a strong reminder that he, and his team, should not be dismissed. This game doesn’t offer the same environment or circumstances (though Kobe is close to becoming the ASG’s all time leading scorer) and I wonder if he’ll approach the game the same way.
  • How assertive will Bynum be? This is his first all-star game and there are often a heavy dose of nerves that come with that. Will he be consumed by the nerves or will he put them aside and show he belongs? He’ll be matched up with Dwight Howard at the start of the game but he’ll be sharing the floor with (arguably) the best 7 best players in the league when the game starts (LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Paul, Durant, Howard, and Rose in no particular order). With that level of talent on the floor, how Bynum fits in will be an interesting note on his first all-star experience.
  • Who will be the MVP? In year’s past, the home team guy has a leg up in chasing the MVP. His teammates look for him more and that guy has a bit extra in his tank to go after it. Will this trend hold for Dwight Howard tonight? His situation is complicated by his desire to be traded from the Magic (and thus the city of Orlando) and by the talent of his teammates (LeBron, Wade, Rose) who are all prime candidates to win the award themselves and put their stamps on this game. Personally, I think the MVP will come down to LeBron or Durant but I could also see Rose sneaking in there and taking it.
  • I wonder this every year, but who will take the shots down the stretch if the game is close? In year’s past, for the West, Kobe has been this guy but last year Durant hit a big shot in the closing minute as Kobe sort of faltered. Will KD be the main dog now or will Kobe still be the guy the West goes to? And what of the East? Will LeBron take the shot or play the set up role? Will Wade be that guy? Maybe Rose will carry over his role with the Bulls to the East team? I simply hope we get a close game so we can see how it all goes down.
  • What funky lineups will we see? I love the idea of a Paul, Durant, Dirk, Love, and Bynum super-sized line up for the West. I’d love to see a Nelly inspired Wade, LeBron, Melo, Iguodala, and Rondo lineup for the East where every player could handle the ball, create shots for himself or a teammate, and get out in the open floor and run a killer fast break. There are a million different ways to mix and match the best players in the world and I can’t wait to see what Brooks and Thibs do.
Obviously my list is incomplete, so what are you watching for? Is there a particular player you’ll be watching closely? A trend you hope to or hope not to see? Let me know in the comments and enjoy the game.

Welcome To The Big Show

Darius Soriano —  February 26, 2012

Making the all-star team is quite an honor. It may not be the same as making an all-NBA team (a distinction that shows a player is one of the best 15 or so players in the league), but making the mid-season classic is something to be proud of nonetheless. As Lakers fans, we’ve become quite used to seeing one (or more) of our guys suit up for the west squad. Kobe’s made the team 14 consecutive years as a starter. Way back in 1998 he made his first appearance and has been a mainstay ever since. For him, it’s become as much of a right as a privilege with fans voting him in for the better part of a decade and a half. This, though, isn’t the norm. Some players live on the cusp of making this team but never do.

I bring all this up because while we celebrate Kobe and his accomplishments it’s kind of easy to forget that another Laker was voted into the west’s starting lineup this year. Andrew Bynum is making his debut as the Center of choice later today and for him, it’s been a long time coming.

Long considered one of the up and coming big men in the league, the only thing that’s held big Drew back are injuries. Back in his break out year of 2008, Bynum was a surefire candidate to make this team before that horrid January night in Memphis that ended his season. The next year, the acquisition of Pau Gasol and another injury kept him from consideration. Last year his longer than anticipated recovery from off-season knee surgery kept him out of too many games and rustiness upon his return kept this honor out of his grasp.

Basically, Bynum has been the all-star big man that wasn’t an all-star. Everyone knew of his potential to reach this game and his production when healthy would have warranted a selection in several other seasons. The fact that it had not happened until this year was surely frustrating for him but also (likely) served as motivation for him to play well and stay healthy enough to show his worth.

Today, though, the goal will be reached. Bynum will jump tip against Dwight Howard in a game that features the guys the fans want to see flash their skills and the coaches believe to be the best players in the game. Today, the talk of Bynum being “an all-star caliber big man” goes from being a comment about what he could be to what he actually is. And for that, Lakers fans should be proud. Proud for Drew reaching his goal, but also for the fact that once again the Lakers have a young and up and coming behemoth manning the pivot for the team that represents the best the western conference has to offer.

And while this may be the first all-star game Drew plays in, it certainly won’t be the last. Because even though the age of the back to the basket big man is nearing its end, Bynum’s power game endures and will have staying power. Most of today’s bigs may flash games that stretch to 20 feet with face up moves off the dribble replacing the power back downs of a generation ago, but Bynum’s throwback style remains as effective today as it would have been in any other era. And with that style, he too should be a mainstay in this game (even if not  at the same frequency of his more celebrated Laker teammate).

So, take some time to appreciate how far Bynum has come. Seven years ago he was a pudgy out of high school kid that the Lakers’ brass took a chance on. The foundation of tools was there but needed molding before reaching this level. After countless hours of hard work and fighting through setbacks, he’s finally here. And, likely, here to stay.

Kobe’s First All-Star Game

Darius Soriano —  February 25, 2012

Tomorrow night, Kobe Bryant will suit up in his 14th consecutive all-star game (all as a starter). Sort of amazing to think it’s been that long since he made his first start back in 1998. Also crazy to think that back in that game, the NBA went with players wearing their own team uniforms rather than special all-star ones. Anyways, here’s a look back at that fateful day when Kobe made his first appearance as a starter when he didn’t even start for the Lakers and was in a full on duel with Michael Jordan (one that Jordan won handily, earning his 3rd MVP in the process). Enjoy.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

In a season of record-breaking achievements, Kobe nearly added another one to his résumé last night, coming within five points of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time single-game All-Star scoring record of 42 points, set in 1962. Bryant’s final stat line of 29 minutes, 37 points (14-26 shooting), and 14 rebounds (10 offensive) was still plenty good enough to earn him his record-tying fourth All-Star Most Valuable Player award.

“It feels great, being at home here and playing in front of the home crowd,” said #24 after the game. “This will be my last All-Star game in front of these home fans, so it feels good to do it.”

For those of us watching at home or lucky enough to be inside of STAPLES Center, Bryant’s performance was a true sight to behold. After hanging around a noticeably light-hearted, jovial Kobe at practice all weekend, I’m not sure any of us really got the sense that we were going to witness the type of special display that we saw in the West’s 148-143 victory over the East All-Stars.

“I talked to him right before the game and I told him let’s go, and he’s one of those guys and he’s a lot like me—an ultimate competitor,” said Bryant’s fellow backcourt member Chris Paul. “I know the All-Star games are supposed to be fun and games, but at the end of the day, we want to win.”

No one wants to win more so than Kobe and it is that insatiable desire that continues to separate him from his peers, both past and present.

“You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP; he was not passing the ball, at all,” said East starter Amar’e Stoudemire. “But that’s Kobe.”

On paper, it sounds like the Knicks center is taking a jab at Kobe’s 26 field goal attempts (he made 14 of them, by the way). In the actual media room, Stoudemire’s tone was more one of reverence than disrespect. Truth be told, Amar’e has seen many a night like last night while going head-to-head for years against Bryant as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Other players like Kevin Durant — who up until a few years ago was watching Kobe on his TV screen — were left in awe.

“It was like playing in a playground,” said the Thunder star. “It was like a pick-up game almost. Just to watch it, I see it on TV all the time, I play against him all the time. But to be on his team and see the things that he was doing out there, is just amazing. As a young player like me, I grew up watching him, and to play alongside him is just an honor.”

Why any one of the media, fans or fellow players still wind up surprised when he puts on a show like he did last night remains one the NBA’s true unsolved mysteries, unless you’re West Coach Greg Popovic.

“He’s one hell of a player,” said Popovic, who’s been witness to countless games like last night from Kobe in the enduring Lakers vs. Spurs rivalry. “He’s Kobe. He does things like that. We shouldn’t be surprised.”

At this stage of his career, Kobe’s motor is more of a diesel engine than a shiny new electric one. Last night was just the latest reminder, though, that he still has enough juice to rev up the old car when he so chooses. After all, they don’t call him Mamba for nothing; Bryant perfected this play dead-and-strike act long ago.

“I joked with him today and called him the Old Fella,” said Durant, showing an admirable amount of deference for a player who is the league’s reigning scoring champ. “He’s been here a long time, but he’s still playing like he’s 22-years-old. You know, as a player, you only can hope and pray for a career like he’s had; a lot of championships, a lot of scoring titles. So it was an honor to play alongside a guy like that. So if he passes the torch on to me, I guess I know what to do with it.”

That day when Kobe will inevitably pass the proverbial torch to the likes of LeBron and Durant is indeed coming, but if his MVP performance is any indicator, they’re going to have to wait a while.

What a game.

Kobe had it going early, Lebron had it going late, and Durant iced the contest in the end. In between those guys doing what they do best, Amar’e threw down a dunk nearly any time he was within five feet of the hoop and was the East’s best big man for most of the evening.

The game started with our own #24 going to work on offense and showing that there is still some life in those 32 year old legs. Throwing down multiple dunks and getting good lift on his jumper, Kobe was in vintage form in the early going. It’s tough to choose a specific play to call my favorite, but his first dunk of the night where he went up and under the rim and threw it down with two hands was a highpoint for me. The play just showed so many facets of Kobe’s game…you had the great first step, the ability to tightrope the baseline, and then the spectacular finish all on a single play. The fact that we’ve rarely seen that explosiveness from him this year was just the icing on the cake.  But it wasn’t just on offense that Kobe was doing major work. He had a game high 14 rebounds, added 3 assists and 3 steals to a very good line.

But while Kobe was human down the stretch, Lebron and Kevin Durant were not. The self proclaimed King saw a double digit deficit in the 2nd half and decided that he was not going to go down without a fight. He turned up his intensity on defense, started to rebound the ball, and then did what he did best by pushing the ball in the open court and bulling his way to the basket. Highlighted by a classic LeBron dunk where he brought the ball what seemed like two feet behind his head and explosively through the ball through the hoop with amazing power, James was a dominant player down the stretch either getting his own shot with ease or setting up a mate (usually Amar’e) for a good look at the rim. Lebron ended the night with a triple double, dropping 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. If there was a more complete player on the floor for the entirety of the game I’m not sure who he was. And considering how well Kobe played, that’s really saying something.

As for Durant, what can you really say about the man that has clearly become the most dangerous scoring threat in the league. While he didn’t match Kobe’s game high 37, KD did drop 34 points of his own making 11 of his 23 FG’s, going 8-8 from the foul line and throwing in 4 three pointers. But it wasn’t just the fact that Durant was knocking down shots, it’s the fact that he hit the big shots down the stretch. When LeBron was nearly single handedly bringing the East back to within two points in the closing minutes, it was Durant nailing a pull up jumper from the top of the circle and then following that up with a three pointer for a one man 5 point run that essentially iced the game. Two straight daggers for Durant and that was that. Really, it was a sight to see him step up the way that he did and seize the moment. It really is tough to believe that he’s only in his 4th season.

Despite this being an All-Star game though, every game needs some role players “stepping up” in order to get the win. For the West team, those guys were easily Russ Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Pau Gasol. Westbrook was tremendous going to the basket all night and had one of the better moves going to the rim all night where he left his defender in his wake by crossing over from right to left and then throwing up a lefty scoop with english that he banked home. Russ ended the night with 12 points on 6-12 shooting and chipped in 5 rebounds as well. Williams, meanwhile, didn’t shoot the ball that well (2-7 FG’s) but did everything else well tying for the team high in assists with 7, playing pretty good D down the stretch, and just being a solid guard when the West needed some stability.

But it was Gasol’s under the radar performance that most helped secure the win when looking outside Kobe and Durant. Pau had 17 points (a high mark for points in all his ASG appearances) on 8-13 shooting and also grabbed 6 offensive boards, none bigger than a tip in off a Kobe miss with less than a minute left that pushed the West lead back to 4 and ultimately kept the East at arms length. His final two FT’s pushed the lead up to 6 and that pretty much ended the game.

In the end, though, the game was about Kobe showing that he’s still got something for the league by earning his 4th All-Star game MVP award and putting on a show for the hometown fans. It’s hard to put into words watching him continue to have something in reserve and defy what people think he should be. Just a tremendous effort from him. I feel quite grateful that I was here to witness it in person.