On a colorful night in Orlando, from pregame performer Nicki Minaj’s pink and green hair to the neon sneakers many of the stars wore, Dwight Howard had nine points and 10 rebounds as the game’s host.
The NBA’s first All-Star game in Orlando in 20 years wasn’t close after 2½ quarters. But players always say it gets competitive in the final five minutes, and James was again up for the challenge.
He hiked his scoring average to 25.9 points over his eight All-Star games, and someday he’ll probably take the record Bryant set Sunday.
But he couldn’t quite catch Kobe in the game.
With the 2-year-old Amway Center considered by many the finest arena in the league, the NBA brought its midseason showcase back to Orlando for the first time since the memorable 1992 game, when Magic Johnson was MVP three months after retiring from the league because of the HIV virus.
This one was once in jeopardy of being lost when the lockout lasted into late November. Without a settlement then, All-Star weekend may have been wiped out, as it was in 1999 following a work stoppage.
The party was saved.
James and Howard, wearing bright orange shoes, danced onto the stage for pregame introductions, Howard breaking into an enormous grin when fans gave him a thunderous ovation as the last All-Star introduced. He insists that he and Magic fans still have a love affair despite his trade request, understanding he still loves the city even if not his team, and urged everyone to ignore the trade talk for a weekend and have fun.
“We did it big for our city,” he said in brief pregame remarks to the crowd before the game.
Then Andrew Bynum blocked his first shot attempt.
The speedy Russell Westbrook had the East looking like it was standing still late in the first half, and it was 88-69 at the break.
Howard and Derrick Rose ditched their orange sneakers in the second half — James kept his — and the East quickly got back into it, trimming 12 points off its deficit in less than 6 minutes. They even started to defend — Wade whacked Bryant so hard on a drive that the Lakers star needed a break between free throws to wipe blood from his nose before sinking it to tie Jordan.
Williams scored 20 points for the East. Carmelo Anthony had 19, and Rose finished with 14.
Kevin Love, who won the 3-point contest on Saturday, scored 17 points for the West, which has won two in a row. Chris Paul had eight points and 12 assists.
Notes: With Bryant, Bynum, Griffin and Paul, four West starters were from Los Angeles. Bynum played only 5½ minutes after a having a procedure on his knee Friday. … Johnson came onto the court for a standing ovation following the first quarter after highlights of his 1992 performance were shown. He was part of another 20-year anniversary acknowledgement in the third quarter, joined by Olympic Dream Team teammates Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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