- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES | Orlando guards Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus may be faced with the seemingly impossible task of guarding Kobe Bryant, but regardless of the difficulty, both are enjoying the challenge.

Pietrus, a six-year veteran, is regarded as Orlando’s best defender and comes off the bench to relieve Lee, a rookie. Both had their hands full in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when Bryant racked up 40 points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 100-75 victory.

Lee got off to a solid start, limiting Bryant to six first-quarter points. Then Bryant erupted for 12 in the second quarter as Lee and Pietrus split time checking him. Bryant scored another 18 points in the third quarter as Pietrus spent the majority of the time on his hip.

“He was able to get where he wanted to go and elevated to make his shots,” Lee said of Game 1. “It’s something we need to work on. We’ve just got to try to put more pressure on him. He made difficult shots, but we need to force him to take more difficult shots, but they didn’t look that difficult to him.”

In Game 2, Bryant finished with 29 points on 10-for-22 shooting.

Lee said he doesn’t have time to think about it on the floor. When he is able to pause on off-days, he said he does find some amazement over - and a slight honor in - the drastic change in defensive assignments he has experienced since last year, when he was coming off an NCAA appearance with Western Kentucky.

But Pietrus, who also spent time guarding LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals, said he is too focused on what he has to do to slow Bryant to allow himself to see anything special about guarding the league’s top two threats.

“It’s my assignment; I’m trying to win a championship,” Pietrus said. “I’m trying to deny him and hope for the best.”

Pietrus did add a little levity, however.

“It’s good for the photographs. Sometimes not. But maybe on the picture you can say he missed it. You never know! If you get dunked on, yes, that is bad. But you can’t always tell,” he said. “And to be in the finals, your picture, you were on Kobe Bryant. It’s good for my son. I can show him one day, ‘Look what your daddy did.’ And maybe someday I can show him Kobe was jumping trying to stop my shot. But it’s good. It’s good to guard the best.

“The only thing I would like to see how Michael Jordan was, to play against him. But for now, at least I was able to compete against the best for the trophy.”

L.A. gets All-Star Game

NBA commissioner David Stern announced Staples Center will host the 2011 All-Star Game.

The All-Star festivities begin Feb. 18 and conclude with the game Feb. 20.

“For one week, L.A. will be the basketball capital of the world,” Stern said Sunday at a news conference that preceded Game 2 of the finals. “Its state-of-the-art facilities, passionate fans and first-class hospitality and entertainment options make Los Angeles an ideal host for NBA All-Star weekend.”

This will be the second All-Star Game held at Staples Center - the arena the Lakers and Clippers call home. It last had the event in 2004, when Shaquille O’Neal took home MVP honors after recording 24 points and 11 rebounds. It’s the fifth time the city has hosted the All-Star Game.

The revitalized 100-acre campus called “L.A. LIVE” that surrounds Staples Center is viewed by the NBA as the ideal place to host such an event because of its retail establishments, restaurants and new hotels.

“David, thank you,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. “Anybody who brings $100 million to my town, especially with the economy being what it is - although 2011, hopefully it will be better - but it will definitely be a shot in the arm.”

Dallas will host the All-Star Game next year.

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