- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

GOING OUT WITH A JIG AND A JAM

Kevin Durant showed childhood friend Michael Beasley a thing or two, upstaging Beasley’s 29 points with 46 of his own while leading the Sophomore team over the Rookies in the Rookie Challenge. Nate Robinson leaped over Dwight Howard to steal his slam dunk crown, and Kobe Bryant torched the East for 27 points.

But Bryant’s old teammate-turned-rival, Shaquille O’Neal, stole the show at All-Star weekend.

Throughout his career Shaq has been famous for his dominant play and his larger-than-life personality and also his clever - and often self-coined - nicknames: the Diesel, the Big Stock Exchange, the Big Aristotle and the Big Cactus, to name a few. And after what likely was the big curtain call for the “M.D.E.” (Shaq’s self-dubbed abbreviation for “Most Dominant Ever”), O’Neal can add the Big Entertainer to his list of titles.

For the basketball purist, the All-Star Games are rather hard to watch. There’s little to no defense and very little offensive strategy, and instead an overload of one-on-one matchups, highlight-hopeful plays and a few dunks. But Shaq demonstrated Sunday why he continues to hold such a fond place in the hearts of fans, athough he’s a shadow of the dominant force that led the Lakers to three titles.

He gets it that the majority of fans tune in to the All-Star Game for entertainment. And entertain he did. His finest moment of the night was his first, when he exploded onto the stage during pregame introductions and became the focus of the Jabbawockeez’s dance performance. Later he had West coach Phil Jackson and his staff in stitches as he attempted to cross over an opponent on the perimeter. Shaq’s big moment on the court came when he bounced the ball through the legs of Dwight Howard to Chris Paul before quickly cutting to the basket and receiving the ball for a rim-rattling jam.

Shaq, who will turn 37 next month, finished with 17 points in 11 minutes and shared co-MVP honors with Bryant.

Obviously growing softer in his old age, Shaq talked about missing the old days with Kobe and the Lakers. Meanwhile, his Phoenix Suns are a disjointed bunch that just got coach Terry Porter fired. O’Neal has nothing to play for now and probably should ride off into the sunset content with four rings. But the day after the All-Star Game, he said he’d be open to a trade to New York for the final season of his contract, which ends in the summer of 2010.

Regardless of his future, Sunday marked the third All-Star MVP honor of O’Neal’s career. And while it most likely was his final All-Star appearance, at least he succeeded in doing what he set out to do at the beginning of the night - putting on a memorable performance.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

PHOENIX SUNS

This isn’t for a good reason. Hosts of the All-Star Game, the Suns were well represented with Amare Stoudemire scoring 19 points on Sunday to go with Shaq’s 17, but things are anything but peachy in Phoenix. As the All-Star break began, Stoudemire was looking like the player most likely to be changing addresses by Thursday’s trade deadline. But by Sunday morning, word was that coach Terry Porter would be fired.

Steve Kerr fired Porter on Monday morning and replaced him with longtime NBA assistant Alvin Gentry, and now Stoudemire - after expressing a desire to go elsewhere for the majority of this season - sounds rather content to remain with the Suns. He said: “I’d love to stay in Phoenix. My whole career has been here. My fan base is here. I would love to remain a Phoenix Sun.”

And if all that wasn’t news enough for the Suns, guard Jason Richardson was arrested Sunday night for driving 90 mph in a 35 mph zone. To make matters worse, he had his 3-year-old son in the back seat unrestrained.

POWER RANKINGS

1. CELTICS (44-11)

With 27 games left, do they have enough to repeat, or should they make a deal before Thursday?

2. LAKERS (42-10)

Kobe Bryant didn’t even take it easy in the All-Star Game. Look for him to continue his assault on the league.

3. CAVALIERS (40-11)

Stoudemire would’ve been a big boost, but with that deal now appearing unlikely the Celtics can breathe easy.

4. SPURS (35-16)

Reportedly interested in Carter, but Duncan believes his crew can contend without that deal.

5. MAGIC (38-13)

Not a great past few weeks for the Magic. Nelson remains out, Howard loses dunk contest.

6. NUGGETS (36-17)

Nuggets fans should send Pistons general manager Joe Dumars thank you cards for Chauncey Billups, who could lead Denver on a run.

7. TRAIL BLAZERS (32-20)

Word is the Trail Blazers would like to make a trade to give Roy more help in a playoff quest.

8. ROCKETS (32-21)

Rockets need a magical run like last season, but it’s unlikely to happen.

9. HORNETS (30-20)

Paul is back, and the team dealt Chandler to Oklahoma City for former Terps Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox.

10. HAWKS (31-21)

This time last year they were 22-29 and went on to squeak into the playoffs. Now they’re the fourth in the East.

LOTTERY WATCH

HOW WILL JENNINGS’ GAMBLE PAY OFF?

In turning down a scholarship from Arizona and instead deciding to go pro in Europe, Brandon Jennings put himself in a precarious situation. Yes, he’d get paid while also playing on a strong team in a more talented league with stiffer competition than the NCAA. But he’s also in a man’s league that’s not ready to turn over the reigns of a team to a high school point guard.

So with scarce minutes, he hasn’t proved himself to NBA scouts. There are some, however, who still consider him the best point guard in the draft. Jennings likely cost himself some draft spots and dollars by going to Italy rather than college, but the situation likely will make for a smoother NBA transition. He still has a chance to go anywhere from high in the draft to middle of the first round.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

TeamRecord L10 Pct.*

Kings 11-43 1-9 25.0

Wizards 11-42 2-8 19.9

Clippers 13-40 3-7 13.8

Thunder 13-40 4-6 13.7

Memphis 15-37 4-6 8.8

* Chances of landing No. 1 pick

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

28-23 Record for Terry Porter as coach of the Phoenix Suns before his firing Monday. Porter became the eighth NBA coach to be fired this season.

TROPHY TRACKER

MVP

1. Kobe Bryant: In dropping 27 in the All-Star Game, he upstaged King James yet again.

2. LeBron James: If Cleveland can somehow overtake Boston, LeBron could take the honor.

3. Dwyane Wade: Leading one of the most dramatic revivals is nothing to sneeze at either.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

1. O.J. Mayo: He leads the pack with 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

2. Derrick Rose: Chicago kid is a close second with 17.0 ppg, 6.3 apg and 3.6 rpg.

3. Brook Lopez: Still making steady improvements with 12.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game.

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