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PREVIEW: Kobe and Shaq back together for NBA All-Star Game
Feb 13, 2009, 15:07 GMT
Los Angeles - At some point during the 58th NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, Kobe Bryant will have one of his current Los Angeles Lakers teammates alongside him in Spanish star Pau Gasol.
He will also have one of his former Lakers teammates alongside him in Shaquille O'Neal.
Bryant and O'Neal, the argumentative duo which led the Lakers to three straight championships earlier this decade, will be teammates for the first time in nearly four years when they join forces for the Western Conference.
Coaching the West is Phil Jackson, the coach of the Lakers who served as both antagonist and peacemaker when Bryant and O'Neal were vying for control of the team during their dynasty.
The reunion is being strongly anticipated by fans and the media. But Bryant, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, doesn't think it is a big deal.
'I haven't given it any thought,' Bryant told the Los Angeles Times. 'Ask Phil about it. Don't ask me about it.'
'They'll have a lot of fun,' Jackson told the newspaper. 'There will be a lot of jocularity because that's what Shaq is about.'
O'Neal and Bryant were Lakers teammates 1996-2004. Despite their highly public differences, they won titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. But they were stunned by Detroit in the 2004 Finals, and O'Neal was traded to Miami soon after.
Just over a year ago, O'Neal was dealt to Phoenix, which is hosting the All-Star Weekend for the first time since 1995. Last month, he was chosen as an All-Star reserve for his 15th career berth, most among active players.
'I'm always the host,' said O'Neal, like Bryant a two-time All-Star MVP. 'I'm the Godfather of the NBA.'
O'Neal and Bryant are part of a West squad that has a considerable international presence. Chinese superstar Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets starts at centre, while Gasol, Germany's Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas and 'French Flash' Tony Parker of San Antonio are reserves.
Joining Yao and Bryant in the West's starting lineup are guard Chris Paul of New Orleans and forwards Tim Duncan of San Antonio and Amare Stoudemire of Phoenix. Other West reserves are Portland's Brandon Roy, New Orleans' David West and Denver's Chauncey Billups.
The East's starters are forwards LeBron James of Cleveland and Kevin Garnett of Boston, centre Dwight Howard of Orlando and guards Dwyane Wade of Miami and Allen Iverson of Detroit. Cleveland's Mike Brown is the coach.
The East's reserves are guards Joe Johnson of Atlanta, Ray Allen of Boston, Devin Harris of New Jersey and Mo Williams of Cleveland and forwards Danny Granger of Indiana, Paul Pierce of Boston and Rashard Lewis of Orlando.
Harris, Williams and Granger are making their first All-Star appearances and will try to help the East win for the fourth time in the last five years. James has won MVP in the East's last two wins, sandwiched around Bryant's MVP in the West's win in 2007 in Las Vegas.
The All-Star Game wraps up a long weekend of competition that was due to start with Friday night's Rookie Challenge.
Spain's Marc Gasol joins Memphis teammate OJ Mayo, Chicago's Derrick Rose and compatriot Rudy Fernandez of Spain in trying to end a seven-game winning streak by the Sophomores, who boast 2008 Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City and Argentina's Luis Scola of Houston.
All-Star Saturday night begins with a new H-O-R-S-E competition among Durant, Mayo and Johnson held outdoors and featuring trick shots but no dunking. It continues with the Shooting Stars, which teams a WNBA player and an NBA legend with a current star from the same squad. Leandro Barbosa of Brazil will try to help Phoenix unseat San Antonio as champion.
Parker, Rose, Harris and Williams will compete in the Skills Challenge, an obstacle course requiring fast dribbling, sharp shooting and precision passing. All are first-time entrants.
Lewis and Granger are among the entrants for the Three-Point Shootout and will be trying to prevent a third straight win by Jason Kapono of Toronto. Atlanta's Mike Bibby, Miami's Daequan Cook and San Antonio's Roger Mason complete the field.
All-Star Saturday wraps up with Howard trying to defend his title in the Slam Dunk Contest. He will be opposed by JR Smith of Denver, former champion Nate Robinson of New York and Fernandez, who was chosen to compete in fan balloting that also will determine the winner.
'I think it's an opportunity for the fans and a great opportunity for me,' Fernandez said.