James is the king All-Star again

Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- Nothing is guaranteed, not even local star Chris Paul winning the MVP award that would have been the bow on the ribbon of the gift wrap of this weekend.

Paul thrust himself into contention, scoring 16 points with 14 assists as the West came from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to take the lead . . . before the East came back to win, 134-128 Sunday night.

That made LeBron James, who had 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, the most valuable player for the second time in three seasons, instead.

With all the point guards that James' Cleveland Cavaliers were pursuing going somewhere else, at least he came out of the weekend with something.

If anything, Paul stayed in the background as opposed to trying to win the award.

"This being my first All-Star game, I wasn't looking to try to win the MVP or anything like that," he said. "That was the last thing I had on my mind. . . .

"I couldn't eat. I couldn't think about nothing, man. Me and Brandon Roy were sitting there on the bus on our way to the game, we were like little kids. Stomach was turning."

For most of the night, it was a generic All-Star game with the East players working harder, trying to wipe out the memory of last season's 153-132 rout by the West in Las Vegas.

The East led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter and by 13 starting the fourth quarter, but the West rallied and a ballgame, of all things, broke out.

With 6:52 left, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki scored on a layup, putting the West up, 112-110.

With 2:49 left, the West was up, 122-119, but Boston's Ray Allen made a three-pointer to tie the score and another the next time down to put the East up, 125-122.

Paul's three-pointer tied it, 125-125, before James drove the lane, saw Nowitzki edging over and threw down a thunderous dunk that had Dirk ducking out of the way.

That untied it for good.

In all, Allen made three three-pointers in the last three minutes, just as his coach, Doc Rivers, was about to take him out.

"They went big with Dirk and [Amare] Stoudemire and [Tim] Duncan, and so I'm thinking, 'Well, we can't go big, so let's go the other way.

"We went small and we just told our guys, let's spread the floor. . . .

"It's a game of chicken, basically. . . . It was funny because they get two, three offensive rebounds. If that timeout doesn't happen, if the play stopped, I was probably going to take Ray out and put [Chris] Bosh in because I was getting worried about the rebounds. . . .

"Listen, the game hasn't changed. It's a make-or-miss league. It always will be. And Ray made shots, LeBron makes plays, we won the game."

Let's just say it was a bigger thrill for some than for others.

Asked about his MVP award and Cleveland teammate Daniel Gibson's in the rookie-sophomore game, James noted, "Oh well, we know we're still not going to get the respect we should get.

"That's never been a problem for us. We don't care, we just go out and play.

"We're always going to be the third- or fourth- or fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference. You know, we still go out and win and when the post-season comes, you've got to come get it from us because we're very good."

So, not every player left New Orleans all aglow.

Paul and New Orleans teammate David West gave a welcoming speech before the game, which seemed to mean as much to Paul as any award.

"When you go around and see people still homeless in those tents and still just trying to make it and things like that," Paul said, "to talk to not only everyone here in the arena but the whole world and let them know New Orleans is back and it's still a rebuilding process, was something that I was very thrilled about.

"Thank you."



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