Kobe leads West to All-Star win on home court

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Kobe leads West to All-Star win on home court

Feb. 20, 2011
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Kobe Bryant always shines brightest among the stars, especially in his hometown.Bryant brought Showtime back to the All-Star game, scoring 37 points and tying a record with his fourth MVP award, leading the Western Conference to a 148-143 victory over the East on Sunday night.Returning to the game he dominates after a one-year absence, Bryant added 14 rebounds in a spectacular performance in front of the usual celebrity-filled crowd that turns out to see his Lakers at Staples Center."It feels great, being at home here and playing in front of the home crowd," Bryant said after receiving the MVP trophy. "This will be my last All-Star game in front of these home fans, so it feels good to do it."Kevin Durant chipped in 34 points, scoring five straight after the East cut a 17-point deficit after three quarters to two points with 2:34 to play. The NBA scoring leader added the clinching free throws after the East got back within three in the final seconds.LeBron James powered the East rally, finishing with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to join Michael Jordan as the only players with a triple-double in the All-Star game. Amare Stoudemire also scored 29, but Miami's Dwyane Wade, the MVP of the East's win last year, had to leave with an ankle injury after scoring 14.Plenty of Hollywood giants were sitting courtside, but Bryant's popularity here can rival most of them. This week, he became the first athlete to have his handprints and footprints put in concrete outside Hollywood's famed Grauman's Chinese Theater.He told fans to "enjoy the show" before the tip, and as always he delivered a good one.Always more about focus than fun, Bryant had 21 points by the time Rihanna came out for her halftime performance, putting him halfway to Wilt Chamberlain's record from 1962, the year of his 100-point game. 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.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.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 Ray Allen threw up an airball on his first shot attempt.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 Griffin 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 break with three losses in a row.They'll be all right if Bryant is as sharp in the spring as he was Sunday.Following a pregame performance by rocker Lenny Kravitz a tandem talc toss by James and the rest of the East starters, Bryant scored 11 points in the first quarter. The West led 76-64 at halftime.NOTES: Not all Celtics get booed in Los Angeles. Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who this week became the first person from the NBA to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, received a standing ovation when his honor was announced during the second quarter. ... The record of 14 straight All-Star selections is shared by Jerry West, Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone. ... Dolph Schayes was honored for scoring the first points in the first All-Star game 60 years ago.

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

Giants lineup: Posey catching, Nunez at third base against Braves

The Giants look to win two straight against the Braves and Bruce Bochy has made a few changes to the lineup Sunday.

Atlanta Braves (21-26)

1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Rio Ruiz (L) 3B
8. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
9. R.A. Dickey (R) P

San Francisco Giants (21-30)

1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Eduardo Nunez (R) 3B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
7. Joe Panik (L) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) LF
9. Johnny Cueto (R) P

Cavs' Love on NBA Finals vs Warriors: 'I don't feel like we're underdogs'

Cavs' Love on NBA Finals vs Warriors: 'I don't feel like we're underdogs'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Vegas is betting against them and the bookies are hardly alone.

Let's be honest, not many are giving the Cleveland Cavaliers much of a chance in the NBA Finals. They may be defending champions and they may have LeBron James, but against Golden State, they are definite underdogs.

Just don't try to tell them that.

"The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title," Cavs forward Kevin Love said following Saturday's practice. "We're trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel. We will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It's tough for me to say that is the case. I don't feel like we're underdogs.

"We match up well with them and I think they'd say the same about us."

Maybe, but as the teams gear up for Thursday night's series opener in Oakland, comments made by Warriors forward Draymond Green in October are reverberating around Cleveland.

Still stinging after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals against Cleveland, the vociferous Green, who was suspended from Game 5, said if given the chance again, he plans to "destroy and annihilate" the Cavs.

Love complimented Green's competitiveness and aimed a verbal volley at Northern California.

"He's a guy who said he wanted us," Love said, "and he has us - starting next Thursday."

Act III in this trilogy is overloaded with story lines, with the biggest being whether James and Co. have enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors, who added superstar Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games a year ago before its Finals flameout.

Golden State has glowed in this postseason, becoming the first team to start 12-0 while winning by an average of 16.3 points per game - the highest margin league history. It's no wonder then that the wise guys have installed the Warriors as heavy favorites to beat the Cavs for the second time in three years and wrestle back the Larry O'Brien Trophy that slipped through their hands last June.

James referred to the Warriors as only "that juggernaut" and "a beast" following Thursday's Game 5 in at Boston, a night in which he passed Michael Jordan as the career postseason scoring leader.

James elected not to talk about the Warriors following the game, choosing instead to celebrate a third straight conference title in Cleveland and his seventh consecutive Finals trip. James didn't speak to reporters on Saturday either, leaving Love to serve as the team's unofficial spokesman as the sports world inched closer to a matchup that seemed destined from the moment last season's Finals ended.

Love was asked if the Cavs wanted the Warriors.

"Want the Warriors?" he said. "They've been right at the top, best team in the league for three years straight now. They've been super-impressive. It's kind of in our minds that that's who we were going to see. They played great basketball this year. Obviously adding an MVP to a team that already has a two-time MVP makes them even more impressive. It's tough to say that we didn't expect it; we knew they'd be right there."

After the team returned from Boston in the wee hours Friday morning, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue didn't go to bed and immediately began working on a game plan to stifle Golden State's powerful, multi-faceted offense.

Lue knows the Cavs are facing a difficult task, one made tougher with the addition of the versatile Durant, who can score down low, from the perimeter and free-throw line.

The Warriors are using Durant the way he envisioned, but Lue has noticed changes in the All-Star.

"He's moving around a lot more," he said. "Just watching him move without the basketball, getting easy baskets off of cuts and splits and when he passes the ball he's also relocating now. He's doing a lot more movement, which makes it even tougher to guard after being one of the tougher scorers I've ever seen."

Lue said didn't deliver any inspiring speech to his players before practice.

Words don't mean much now - not his, not Green's - and neither do underdog labels.

"We're not going to use that as motivation," Lue said. "We're in the NBA Finals. That's enough motivation alone. Not worry about what it says in Vegas or what people are saying about underdogs. We're not using that as an excuse. We've got to come out and play. Our goals were set at the beginning of the season, and that's to win a championship. So, that's what we're focused on."

And remember, the Cavs have overcome long odds before.