Continued from page 1

And when the East made it close in the third quarter, Bryant dunked over a chasing James who was going for the block, then nailed a 3-pointer to make it 90-79.

“He was unbelievable tonight,” James said. “You definitely saw his motor was going tonight.”

Carmelo Anthony scored eight points in his possible goodbye to the West team. The weekend was dominated by talk of a potential trade to New York or New Jersey, and the Denver Nuggets forward appeared alternately entertained and annoyed by the constant questions.

“At times, it can be tough, but it’s fun at the same time,” he said while walking on the magenta carpet before the game. “During this weekend I’m still having fun.”

While hearing some of the usual “MVP! MVP! chants he’s usually serenaded with at Staples Center, Bryant tied Bob Pettit’s record for All-Star game honors. He was scoreless for the final 6:48, but Lakers teammate Pau Gasol had a big basket to help the West hold on.

Gasol scored 17 points, helping the West hold on against an East team featuring a combined seven players from Boston and Miami, considered two of the biggest threats to end the Lakers’ reign.

The exhibition game had a bit of a finals feel with the presence of a record-tying four players from the rival Celtics.

Paul Pierce — who grew up in nearby Inglewood — and Kevin Garnett received the heaviest boos during the starting lineups. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were also here from the group that lost Game 7 on this floor last June and would love another chance to come take the title back.

East coach Doc Rivers sent his four players out together midway through the first quarter to loud boos that usually provide the soundtrack of June in Los Angeles. They quickly turned to cheers when Allen threw up an airball on his first shot attempt.

Bryant denied gaining extra motivation from seeing the two rivals, both of whom already won at Staples Center this season. But he was clearly into the game from the start, driving for a couple of strong dunks or knocking down jumpers when defenders gave him room.

The crowd of entertainers included Beyonce and Jay-Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jack Nicholson, Stevie Wonder, John Legend and Justin Bieber — who was called Justin “Berber” by the public address announcer while mentioning the teen star’s MVP performance in the celebrity game on Friday.

Perhaps trying too hard to impress the stars surrounding them, there were errant passes and shaky shooting in the early minutes. The West got it right in the final minute of the first quarter, with rookie star Blake Griffin of the Clippers catching an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams for one of his powerful dunks — though not quite the degree of difficulty as his slam while leaping over the hood of a car Saturday to win the dunk contest.

The game was a welcome diversion from the Anthony talk and the troubling labor situation that threatens the league. Next year’s game is scheduled for Orlando, but nobody can be sure it will be played. The owners and players’ association met Friday to discuss a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires June 30. Though it was described as a positive meeting, there was also no progress made, and the sides have a significant gap to close in order to prevent a work stoppage.

And it was a welcome break for Lakers fans, whose defending two-time champions stumbled into the weekend with three losses in a row.

They’ll be all right if Bryant is as sharp in the spring as he was Sunday.

Story Continues →