LOS ANGELES (AP) - Kobe Bryant needed only a quick survey of the All-Star rosters for the names to jump out at him.
“We’re playing the Celtics and the Heat,” he said. “And the Hawks.”
Forget that last one. It’s those first two that should spice up Sunday night’s game on Bryant’s home floor, particularly the presence of a record-tying four players from that hated team in green.
“I think there will some boos in the stands. I’m expecting that,” said San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, who will coach the Western Conference.
Boston’s Doc Rivers will lead an East team that includes Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. He also gets Miami’s Big Three, including LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in his starting lineup.
“I can get used to that,” Rivers said.
Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Orlando’s Dwight Howard and New York’s Amare Stoudemire are the other East starters, with Atlanta’s Joe Johnson and Al Horford rounding out the reserves. But most eyes will be on the Celtics and Heat, both of whom already won at Staples Center this season.
Bryant denied gaining extra motivation from seeing them again, insisting he gets up to play anybody. But Lakers fans might feel differently if Rivers goes ahead with his previously mentioned plan and puts the four Celtics on the floor together.
“Four of them going out there, it might get your blood going,” said former Celtics All-Star and current Turner Sports analyst Kevin McHale. “I’m sure they’ll look out and think the Celtics are invading again.”
The Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7 of last year’s NBA finals at Staples Center. An exhibition game could never replace that, but Rivers and his players would love to walk off their longtime rivals’ court as winners ahead of the chance they really want in June.
That will require the Celtics and Heat, developing their own rivalry, to play nice for a night. James said that’s no problem, recalling that his East winners in 2006 had four Detroit Pistons, the only other team to have four players picked by the coaches as reserves.
“For that weekend, as hard as it is, we’ll kind of put the rivalries and the dislikes aside for the better of the fans and the better of the game,” James said.
Rivers is glad to hear it _ even if he doesn’t necessarily buy it.
“I’ve always been amazed by it, even when you know guys don’t like each other,” he said. “In this case, I don’t know if that’s true, but there are certain guys on different teams that don’t like each other. And then they’re in the All-Star game. I’ve always laughed when you see ‘em like laughing and joking. You know, boy, they’re so … phony right now. That’s what you want to say. But that’s good. As long as we win the All-Star game, too, that’ll be fine.”
Joining Bryant in the West lineup will be the Hornets’ Chris Paul, NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City, Denver’s Carmelo Anthony _ yes, he’s still in the West, at least for now _ and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, whom Popovich chose Thursday night to replace Yao Ming. The Houston center was voted in by fans despite being injured.