NBA All-Star Game: West 153, East 132

Monday, February 19th 2007, 6:26 am
By: News On 6

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ From Kobe Bryant to the last blackjack dealer, everybody believed the NBA was a big winner after gambling on a 72-hour All-Star extravaganza in Sin City.

Sure, the main event was a bit of a bust, but the All-Star game is always a crapshoot.

Bryant had 31 points, six assists and six steals in his second MVP performance at the league's midseason showcase, and the West set All-Star records for assists and field goals in a 153-132 win over the East on Sunday night.

Nobody could bet on this game in the local casinos _ the favored West covered the 4 1/2-point spread _ making the result even more inconsequential than usual. Instead, this outlandish weekend will be remembered for its setting _ the first All-Star game held outside an NBA franchise city, and the first with a flock of bedazzled showgirls flanking Wayne Newton for a pregame rendition of ``Viva Las Vegas.''

``No doubt about it, we definitely enjoyed Las Vegas,'' said Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, who had 29 points and nine rebounds. ``I hope the All-Star game comes back here soon, because it was a lot of fun.''

After an appropriately decadent performance featuring acrobats, a juggler, Elvis impersonators and the usual All-Star hijinks from 24 NBA stars, Bryant emerged as the game's best player in front of the southern Nevada fans who adopt his Lakers as their team.

With the crowd chanting ``M-V-P'' in the final minute, Bryant roared through the lane and threw down a vicious dunk over Chris Bosh's head. The weekend went a whole lot better for Bryant than his previous MVP outing in 2002 in Philadelphia _ where his hometown fans booed his every move.

``As players, we always want to feel like we're appreciated for what we do,'' Bryant said. ``To have this type of reaction here in this All-Star game is very humbling. I just feel very blessed to be able to come out and put on a really good show.''

Most everybody knew the real show went on in the dozens of casinos and hundreds of clubs around the Las Vegas Strip, where athletes, celebrities, groupies, entourages and old-fashioned basketball fans partied the weekend away in a hip-hop hoop summit. The fun never stopped and the crowds never thinned for three days and four nights in a city that loves an outrageous time.

The weekend heated up Saturday when Boston's Gerald Green won the dunk contest with a much-needed injection of originality, and Miami's Jason Kapono was crowned the top 3-point shooter with a record-tying final performance.

By Sunday night, the glorified exhibition was all that remained _ and the NBA's biggest stars rolled through a fairly nondescript contest featuring plenty of points and almost no defense. Some things don't change, even in Vegas.

``We got here at 2 o'clock,'' said Shaquille O'Neal, who played point guard and showed off a shimmy-shake move against Mehmet Okur on one fourth-quarter possession. ``There's a lot of stretching and standing around. We were all kind of stiff, so the game was a little lopsided. But that's OK. They came here to see a show, and they got a show.''

Celebrities were all over the front row: Diddy, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Eva Longoria, Ludacris, Prince, Dave Chappelle, Chris Tucker, Steve Carell, Jeremy Piven, Cameron Diaz, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. Paris Hilton and Barry Bonds were among those who couldn't get on the floor.

The West jumped to a big early lead with sharp outside shooting and solid ball movement. Perhaps Phoenix's Mike D'Antoni, the West coach, managed to inject a bit of his Suns' philosophy into his stars despite the injury absence of catalysts Steve Nash and Allen Iverson.

Bryant's team led by 33 points before coasting to victory during the East's 44-point fourth quarter. Stoudemire was outstanding in a performance that cemented his comeback from microfracture knee surgery, and Denver's Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points in his first All-Star game.

Cleveland's LeBron James, the 2006 MVP, led the East with 28 points. Orlando's Dwight Howard had 20 points and 12 assists, but his club had far too many mediocre performances _ including O'Neal's 5-for-13 effort.

``Kobe Bryant is a guy I definitely love competing against, and he probably feels the same way about me,'' James said. ``You always have fun on All-Star weekend. It's a time you get an opportunity to come together for the fans.''

Though opinion remains divided on whether Las Vegas should have a permanent NBA team _ or if it's even possible to find somebody to build an appropriate arena for a club-to-be-named-later _ there seems to be little doubt this experiment in hedonism was a huge success.

Nobody throws a party like Vegas, and everyone who played in Sunday's grand finale seemed eager to come back to the desert soon.

``If they don't do it here every year,'' East guard Richard Hamilton said, ``they should at least have it here every other year.''