Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - The stars will be on display in the Magic Kingdom on Sunday when the league's best from the East and West clash in the 61sth annual NBA All-Star Game at Orlando's Amway Center.
The contest will be the second time that the midseason showcase has emanated from Central Florida and the first in 20 years. Orlando also played host in 1992 when Magic Johnson came out of retirement to win the MVP award in one of the most memorable moments in NBA history.
Johnson, of course, had abruptly called it quits before the 1991-92 season after announcing he had contracted HIV. Fans still clamored for Johnson's trademark style and flamboyance, however, and voted him into the starting lineup for the West, where he scored 25 points and handed out nine assists during a 153-113 rout in the old Orlando Arena.
That turned out to be the final All-Star appearance of Johnson's Hall of Fame career.
This year's version features a lot of familiar faces as well as some fresh ones.
On the Eastern Conference side, Magic star Dwight Howard, winner of the last three NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, was this year's leading vote- getter overall, garnering 1,600,390 votes and will handle the pivot for coach Tom Thibodeau.
This is the sixth time Howard has been named an All-Star and it could be his last as a member of the Magic since trade rumors continue to swirl around the big man with the March 15 deadline looming.
"We're not going to talk about it right now," Howard said when talking about his status earlier this weekend. "The situation right now is All-Star weekend, that's the only thing that matters now. We're going to have fun and enjoy ourselves. All that other stuff comes after. For right now my focus is to have a good time and be a fine host to these great players."
Joining the hometown star in the East starting lineup are Miami staples LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, as well as New York's Carmelo Anthony and Thibodeau's bell cow in Chicago, reigning MVP Derrick Rose.
James, an eight-time selection that was the 2006 and 2008 All-Star Game MVP, and Anthony, who earned his first selection as a Knick but fifth overall, join Howard up front.
Wade, the 2010 All-Star Game MVP and an eight-time honoree, will line up in the backcourt next to Rose, who will be making his third straight All-Star appearance.
The East bench is headlined by perennial Boston All-Star Paul Pierce, who was selected for a 10th time. Joining Pierce as reserves on the squad are his teammate Rajon Rondo as well as first timers Roy Hibbert of Indiana, Luol Deng of Chicago and the Sixers' Andre Iguodala.
"I could not be more proud of Andre Iguodala for being recognized as an All- Star," Sixers head coach Doug Collins said. "Andre has meant so much to the success of our team this season and he is one of the most talented, unselfish players I have ever had the opportunity to coach."
Rounding out the East squad are Miami power forward Chris Bosh and New Jersey point guard Deron Williams.
Rondo was a late replacement for Atlanta's Joe Johnson, who had to bail out with tendinitis in his left knee. Williams earned his third trip, and Bosh his seventh. Johnson would have been playing in his sixth contest while Rondo will be making his third straight appearance.
The Western Conference has a distinct Hollywood feel to it with four players from the starting lineup from Los Angeles' two teams.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, a four-time All-Star MVP (2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011), was the leading vote-getter in the West with 1,555,479 votes. His 14th straight All-Star selection ties Jerry West, Karl Malone, and his former teammate Shaquille O'Neal for the most consecutive All-Star nods in NBA history.
Bryant, who matched Hall of Famer Bob Pettit by taking his fourth MVP honor in LA last season, will be accompanied in the starting backcourt by the Clippers' Chris Paul, a five-time honoree making his first appearance as a member of the Clip Show.
The West's coach, Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks, will have his own charge in the frontcourt, three-timer Kevin Durant, alongside two first-time starters, the Clippers' Blake Griffin and Bryant's teammate with the Lakers, center Andrew Bynum.
Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, making his 11th consecutive appearance, headlines the West reserves.
"I am really excited to make the All-Star Team this year," Nowitzki said. "It was a tough road back to full health for me, but I am honored that the coaches thought enough of me to make me an All-Star."
Joining Nowitzki in the frontcourt on the West bench are first-timers LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis' Marc Gasol, along with double-double machine Kevin Love of the Timberwolves.
"LaMarcus is a premier player in this league and I'm very happy to see him be recognized for his efforts as a player and a leader," said Trail Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan . "He improves every season and this is validation for all the hard work he's put in to become an All-Star."
The Suns' Steve Nash, San Antonio's Tony Parker and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook will spell Bryant and Paul in the backcourt.
It's the second All-Star nod for both Love and Westbrook, while Parker goes for the fourth time, and Nash, at 38 the oldest player in this year's game, is an All-Star for the eighth time.
In the 2011 annual event, hometown hero Bryant scored 37 points in the Western Conference's 148-143 victory over the East at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
The starters for Sunday's contest were determined by the fans' votes, while the 30 head coaches in the NBA voted for the reserves in their respective conferences.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The All-Star format is all about athleticism and the ability to excel in the spacing of an open floor. As you might expect, Bryant and James have dominated recent All-Star games, combining for five of the last six MVP awards, with Wade, another superlative open court performer, breaking that string in the 2010 game.
Durant and Anthony are always worth mentioning since they are probably the best pure scorers in the NBA right now and can fill it up faster than anyone else.
Home court is also always very important in these games since players like to feed the local favorites and fuel the energy of the crowd. So, also pay plenty of attention to Howard, who could give the fans of Central Florida a nice parting gift by dominating things inside and taking home the MVP award.
"I'm just going to go for the win," Howard said when asked if the MVP was on his mind. "That's it. That's the only thing that matters."
-This season marks the first time since 1997 that two pair of teammates (the Lakers' Bryant and Bynum and the Clippers' Paul and Griffin) have been voted to start for one conference. Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, along with Seattle's Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton did it back in '97.
-Nash matched Walter Davis for the most All-Star appearances in Phoenix franchise history with six. He's also just the fourth player in NBA history to earn an All-Star selection at 38 or older, joining a Hall of Fame club that includes only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988), Michael Jordan (2001, 2002) and Karl Malone (2001). Abdul-Jabbar made his final appearance in 1988 at 41 years of age.
-Players on the All-Star rosters have a combined total of 113 All-Star appearances (East - 59, West - 54).
-Eight international players selected for this year's All-Star Game, including Deng, who is the first NBA player to represent Great Britain.
-Six first time All-Stars will be participating in the All-Star Game, the most since 2005 when seven made their debuts.
-Bryant is fourth all-time in NBA history with 244 All-Star points and will have a chance to move past the top three, Michael Jordan (262), Abdul-Jabbar (251) and Oscar Robertson (246). Meanwhile, James' 24.4 scoring average in seven All-Star games is the best ever.
- The East leads the all-time series by a 36-24 margin. There was no All-Star game in 1999 due to the lockout.
The game, of course, caps a busy weekend of activity for the NBA.
All-Star Saturday was headlined by Utah Jazz forward Jeremy Evans, a late replacement in the Slam Dunk contest, who received 29 percent of the fans' votes to win the competition..
This year's contest featured a new format consisting of just one round, with each dunker executing three dunks. The winner was chosen solely by fan vote, which opened after all four competitors completed their first dunk.
Evans replaced injured New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert in the event and made the most of the opportunity. His first dunk centered around a prop, but his second dunk was perhaps the highlight of the contest.
On his first try, Evans bounced the ball to himself and sent home a reverse slam while a small camera fixed to his right ear captured the action.
On Evans' second dunk, his prop was teammate Gordon Hayward, who sat in a chair facing away from the basket and tossed two balls high above his head. Evans soared over Hayward, caught both balls and slammed them home in succession to the delight of the crowd.
Prior to his third dunk, Evans was approached by comedian Kevin Hart. Dressed as a mailman, Hart delivered Evans a vintage Malone jersey. Donning the apparel of the Utah Jazz legend, nicknamed "The Mailman", Evans then leapt over the diminutive Hart and finished with a slam.
Evans bested Houston Rockets forward Chase Budinger, Indiana Pacers guard Paul George and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams to win. All four contestants were first-time participants.
"It's amazing," Evans said. "I think Gordon was huge. I couldn't have done it without him and I'm just glad he came."
Love defeated Durant in a tiebreaker to capture the Three- Point Shootout. The Wolves All-Star advanced to the final round with a tiebreaker win over Miami's Mario Chalmers. There he met Durant and Chalmers' teammate and defending shootout champion James Jones.
Jones had 12 points in the final round, while Love and Durant both finished with 16, necessitating a tiebreaker round. Love went first and put up 17 points. Durant followed with 14 to finish in second place.
"I knew it was going to be stiff competition," Love said. "I knew it was going to be tough. When Kevin and I tied, then when it came to the last round, I was a little worried about Kevin coming up behind me; I thought 16 was going to be a little bit too low."
Parker won the Skills Challenge, made up of a course that includes various dribbling, shooting and passing obstacles, with a time of 32.8 seconds, edging Rondo and Deron Williams in the final round to earn the win.
"I was very confident before the competition, finishing last the first two times I did it," Parker said. "I was calmer. The first time they did the event and I was with Jason Kidd and Gary Payton and I was nervous, because coming from France everything was big."
Rondo, who was a late addition to the event due to an injury to Golden State's Stephen Curry, won a tiebreaker round with John Wall of the Wizards to advance to the final, where he posted a time of 34.6 seconds.
In the Shooting Stars competition former Knicks guard Allan Houston led Team New York to a win. Houston, along with current Knick Landry Fields and Cappie Pondexter of the WNBA's New York Liberty, needed just 37.7 seconds to finish the final round and edge Team Texas.
Former Houston Rockets guard and present TNT analyst Kenny Smith, current Rocket Chandler Parsons and Sophia Young of the San Antonio Silver Stars comprised Team Texas, which finished with a time of 47.6 seconds in the final round.
"I have to say we have been practicing a little bit," Houston said. "Heck, we came up with a good strategy, everybody hit their shots."
The festivities kicked off Friday night in spectacular fashion when Cleveland's Kyrie Irving knocked down all eight of his three-point attempts en route to a game-high 34 points as Team Chuck topped Team Shaq, 146-133, in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge.
Irving's eight bombs were the second most in Challenge history behind teammate Boobie Gibson's 11 back in back in 2007 and his 34 total points were fourth best ever.
Washington's John Wall and the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins, teammates in college at Kentucky, also had strong performances for Team Chuck. Wall, the MVP in the 2011 game after dishing out 22 assists, finished with 17 points and eight helpers while Cousins, who scored a game-best 33 last season, netted 18 with 11 rebounds this time around.
The Sixers' Evan Turner, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, was not selected to play in the Challenge as a rookie but made up for it this time around, flirting with a triple-double and finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on 8-of-9 shooting for Team Chuck.
Team Shaq was paced by Cavs rookie and Irving's teammate Tristan Thompson, who came off the bench to score 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Detroit second- year center Greg Monroe added 19 points and Heat rookie Norris Cole contributed 18 points O'Neal's club.
"It's a game to have fun. I enjoyed myself so much with these guys," Irving said.
Meanwhile, Hart was named the MVP of the Celebrity All-Star game. He had eight points and six assists, as celebrities from the East topped ones from the West, 86-54, at the Orange County Convention Center.
In D-League offerings, Booker Woodfox, the 2011 NBA D-League Three-Point Competition champion, defended his title against the 2009 sharp-shooting champion Blake Ahearn (Reno Bighorns) by a second-round score of 26-20. In the first round of the shootout, Ahearn led all shooters with 27 points, while Woodfox advanced with a score of 20 points.
L.D. Williams of Springfield defeated Chris Roberts (Texas Legends) by a final score of 93-70 in the second round in the Dunk Contest, while Sioux Falls All- Star Marqus Blakely drilled a half-court shot to give his teammates Jerry Smith (Springfield) and Cameron Jones (Fort Wayne) the Shooting Stars title.
Finally, in the D-League All-Star contest, former Celtics No. 1 pick Gerald Green of the Los Angeles D-Fenders shot 10-for-17 from the floor and finished with a game-high 28 points to lead the West All-Stars to a 135-132 win over the East. Green, who's averaging 19.1 points this season for the D-Fenders, was named the game's MVP.
Ahearn added 21 points, including 15 in the final four minutes of the second half to help the West claim victory. JamesOn Curry of the Armor paced the East with 25.
02/26 10:34:33 ET