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West’s Victory Is So L.A.

Times Staff Writer

Of course, with all the stars of the NBA in town, the league could surely squeeze one little All-Star game in between all those tales of Laker troubles, couldn’t it?

Fat chance.

First, Kobe Bryant arrived 30 minutes late Sunday (“L.A. traffic,” he said) and missed the team photo, so his image will have to be pasted into the picture by computer.

Then Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal shot it out to see who would be the MVP. That turned out to be O’Neal, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds, to Bryant’s 20 points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals.

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Oh, 22 other players from other teams also played and the West won, 136-132, running its winning streak to three games.

After three days of saturation coverage of Laker strife, they must have been happy to see that Bryant and O’Neal didn’t really compete for the MVP award. Bryant seemed to look for teammates late in the game when the trophy was waiting to be claimed and O’Neal noted later, “Kobe was definitely looking for me.”

For his part, Bryant complimented O’Neal.

“He’s not a typical big man,” said Bryant. “He can handle the ball, do a lot of creative things on the perimeter. He had an incredible game today, running the floor, getting second-chance opportunities, taking pictures of himself. It was showtime, man.”

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Once O’Neal went in for a dunk and crashed into Ruben Studdard of “American Idol,” who had always looked pretty large, himself, until Shaq landed on top of him.

Once O’Neal went end-to-end for a dunk, bounced off a photographer and pretended to smooth his hair (he’s bald) to pose for a picture.

“I crossed T-Mac up at half and there was a big hole and I just took it in,” said O’Neal.

This meant he beat Tracy McGrady with a crossover dribble at halfcourt, saw a lane to the basket and drove in for the dunk as the East’s Jason Kidd stepped alertly out of the way.

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“I didn’t move just a little bit,” Kidd said afterward. “I moved all the way out of the way.”

This being an All-Star game, no one blamed Kidd, and no one might have if it had counted in the standings.

“You can only be so demanding as a coach,” said the East’s Rick Carlisle, smiling. “I’ve only seen one man take a charge on Shaq when he was going full-speed like that. That was Travis Best. He took it at the three-point line and slid all the way back and hit the stanchion.”

As much as the league might have wished it were otherwise, despite all its charitable and promotional activities, the weekend was dominated by reports of problems between Bryant and the Lakers, Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson and, of course, Bryant and O’Neal.

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Someone even asked Carlisle before the game what he thought of the Lakers’ problems.

“You know, I don’t concentrate much on Phil Jackson and Kobe and Shaq,” said Carlisle. “I mean, it’s sort of there and we all sort of feel it but really, when you’re a head coach in this league, we really are just trying to keep our eye on the ball.”

Then, of course, there was the West’s Flip Saunders, who coaches Minnesota and must have had a good time for three days, reading about the imminent Laker blowup.

“Not really,” said Saunders. “I think everybody knows, everyone in our league that is knowledgeable, that at the beginning of the [season], they were 18-3 when they had everybody together.... If they can get everyone healthy and get everyone back together, they’re going to make a legitimate run.”

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In other words, he’s not buying it until he sees it.

The West, with its starting front line of 7-foot-6 Yao Ming, 7-foot Tim Duncan and 6-11 Kevin Garnett, moved into the usual early lead but the smaller East players, who are tired of hearing how puny and insignificant they are, came back, going up by nine points in the second quarter.

The second half was fought on even terms, Duncan finally putting the West ahead to stay, 133-132, by banking in an eight-foot turnaround jumper with 26 seconds left.

O’Neal, outscored last week for the first time by Yao and beaten out by him in fan voting for the start Sunday, watched the second-year Rocket center score six points in the first quarter, with teammates seeming to enjoy throwing him lobs for dunks.

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When O’Neal got in, he looked energetic, indeed, and kept it up all game.

“I’m not really one known to be taking over an All-Star game,” O’Neal said, denying any feeling of rivalry with Yao, as usual.

“This is a couple of days you get to spend with the best players in the league so I just wanted to come out and have a good time. I said to myself, if it’s going good and nobody is really shining, I’m going to go for it.”

A league official said he didn’t know if Bryant would be fined but no announcement was forthcoming. Who knows, maybe Commissioner David Stern had had enough of controversies involving the Lakers.

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On that mercifully harmonious note, the weekend drew to a close.

In another hopeful sign for the league, next season’s game is in Denver and, so far, their guys get along.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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HOW LAKERS FARED

All-Star game most valuable player Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were the top scorers:

*--* O’Neal Bryant MINUTES 24 36 POINTS 24 20 FIELD GOALS 12-19 9-12 FREE THROWS 0-1 0-1 REBOUNDS 11 4 OFF. REBOUNDS 5 1 ASSISTS 1 4

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