Richmond is King amid NBA royalty

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHOENIX -- With just less than seven minutes left in last night's NBA All-Star Game, Phoenix Suns coach Paul Westphal tried desperately to get hometown hero Charles Barkley a shot at the Most Valuable Player award.

Barkley had 12 points to that point and Westphal inserted him into the game, even going as far as calling a 20-second timeout to get him on the floor.

But there would be no fairy tale ending, not on a night that belonged to Sacramento Kings guard Mitch Richmond. Two years after making the All-Star Game and not being able to play, Richmond scored a game-high 23 points in the 139-112 victory by the Western Conference All-Stars last night at the America West Arena.

"I never dreamed I would have a game like this," said Richmond, who hit 10 of 13 shots. "This is awesome."

Eight players scored in double figures for the West, which lost last year's game in Minneapolis. Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal's 22 points led seven double-figure scorers for the East.

"It feels good," said Richmond, the first nonstarter to win the award since Boston's Nate Archibald did it in 1981. "I'm so up right now, I don't know what to say. It's an exciting moment for me. It feels good for me to represent Sacramento the way I did."

Barkley, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, said his vote would have gone to Richmond, too.

"I keep hearing about how underappreciated he is. He's an All-Star, he's not underappreciated. [At the end] they were passing the ball to me, and I wasn't expecting it," Barkley said. "I was trying to get it to Mitch."

Plus, Barkley said, he has had his moment in the spotlight. "I was lucky to get the MVP one time. If I got one more, it would just clog up my house."

As the game started, many wondered whether this would be Year Two of the Shaq-spiracy. Triple-teamed to keep the ballyhooed rookie contained in last year's game, O'Neal found less stringent defense last night and responded with 10 points in first-half minutes.

In reality, the Western Conference All-Stars had no need to triple-team O'Neal. Or even double-team him. With Karl Malone's 13 points in the half leading the way, the Western All-Stars led by as many as 18 points in the half on their way to a 72-56 bulge at the intermission.

Detroit Pistons guard Grant Hill was the leading vote-getter in All-Star voting, and he wound up sharing top scoring honors for the East in the first half. Hill, O'Neal and Patrick Ewing each scored 10 points for the East. Hill and Ewing went scoreless in the second half.

Hill was able to generate the most excitement in the early going. His first All-Star basket came on a dunk, with Hill soaring to meet a lob pass from Magic guard Anfernee Hardaway just over two minutes into the game. In fact, both of his first-quarter baskets came on dunks, with the second giving the East a 12-8 lead -- its biggest of the game.

But by the end of the quarter it was the more experienced West All-Stars who had control of the game. Seattle SuperSonics forward Shawn Kemp scored all 11 of his first-half points in the opening quarter, leading the West. He finished with 13.

The West opened the second quarter with a dunk by Denver Nuggets center Dikembe Mutombo, and a layup by Seattle guard Gary Payton. And for the rest of the half they never looked back.

"There were a lot of guys to pass to, and you try to pass to all of them," said Payton, who scored six points but had 15 assists, nine in the first half. "I'm really happy getting all those assists."

Highlights of the second quarter? How about Charlotte Hornets forward Larry Johnson showing the increased diversity of his game, hitting a three-pointer. O'Neal going to the foul line for two free throws -- and making them. Or Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone midway through the second quarter checking into a game that he tried to get out of earlier in the week, claiming an injured ankle.

Was Malone, who was threatened with a suspension if he didn't show, really hurt? Who knows. He didn't play like it, scoring 13 points over the last 7:43 of the second quarter that really helped put the half out of reach for the East.

So it was fitting that a dunk by Malone (15 points overall) gave the West its biggest lead, 70-52, with 47.8 seconds left in the half. Malone scored nine of his team's final 11 points of the half. He wound up hitting all five of his shots in the half, and grabbing three rebounds.

"I really didn't mind sitting there," said Malone. "There are a lot of good players here. We all know where we are. The most important thing is not to get injured and don't do anything silly to get injured."

Up by 16 at the half, the West loosened its defense and the East briefly got back in the game.

Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, a runner-up in the Long Distance shootout the night before, connected on two three-pointers to spark an opening 15-7 run. And after O'Neal scored on a layup with 5:57 left the East was within 79-71.

Before the game, Mutombo said he hoped Westphal would play him alongside David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon -- clearly an intimidating lineup. That never happened, but there was an interesting matchup when Robinson and Olajuwon faced O'Neal and Ewing. Neither side gained a clear advantage. The East stars were still in it after Detroit guard Joe Dumars hit a three-pointer with just over four minutes left that cut the lead to 86-77.

But the West outscored the East 18-4 over the rest of the quarter and took a 104-81 lead into the fourth quarter.

The game remained lopsided in the fourth, with the All-Stars at times playing sloppily. There was O'Neal missing a layup on one end, and Seattle forward Detlef Schrempf missing a layup at the other.

O'Neal then tried to demonstrate his range with a three-point attempt. He wound up shooting an air ball, missing the shot worse than the 16-year-old kid on Saturday who was way short of his million-dollar shot at halftime of the rookie game.

"We got the loss, but I'm just glad to be here and that Brian [Hill] and the rest of the coaching staff was here," O'Neal said. "Now it's time to get back to my real job."

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