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O'Neal's muscle powers West to 136-132 victory over East


LOS ANGELES - There are NBA All-Star games and then there are NBA All-Star games played in Tinsel Town, which means that whatever rules usually apply go out the window.

There was Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal playing point guard, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant missing the team photo, the Orlando Magic's Tracy McGrady wearing a blue shoe and a red shoe, and a marriage proposal to talk-show host Star Jones.

Ho-hum. Just another day in La-La Land.

At the end of the day, O'Neal's brute strength gave the Western All-Stars a 136-132 victory over the Eastern Conference last night at Staples Center.

O'Neal had a game-high 24 points off the bench, along with 11 rebounds, to earn his second All-Star Game Most Valuable Player trophy.

"I'm not one to be taking over an All-Star Game," O'Neal said. "This is a couple of days that you get to spend with the best players in the league. I just wanted to come out and have a good time.

"I said to myself, if no one's going good and no one is really shining, I'm going to go ahead and go for it. In the third and fourth quarters, I got a couple of dunks and scored a few buckets."

O'Neal wasn't the only Laker to star at Staples Center. Bryant, the subject of considerable drama this weekend after a story Friday that he told his team privately that he would opt out at season's end, had 20 points and five steals.

To add to the L.A. drama, Bryant not only missed the West's team photo, but he also showed up at Staples Center 80 minutes before the contest, long after he was supposed to arrive. He called league officials after he was due to report and said he would be late. He said after the game that traffic was the reason.

Last night's game was right out of the "blink and possibly miss something," like an alley-oop lob from 7-foot-5 center Yao Ming to Houston Rockets teammate, 6-3 Steve Francis, or O'Neal picking up a photographer's camera and checking his hairstyle after a basket.

And talk about strange: How about the most skilled basketball players hitting well over half their shots from the field but combining to shoot 50 percent from the free-throw line?

The evening's strangest collision of basketball and entertainment celebrities occurred with 3:18 left in the contest, when O'Neal, who had tried twice before to go coast-to-coast, finally did, with a thunderous jam.

"I had a lot of fun," O'Neal said. "A couple of people told me if I got it and there's an opening, they wanted me to go coast-to-coast. A couple of times, I had a couple of openings, and I didn't finish them, but the one time in the fourth quarter, I crossed T-Mac [McGrady] up at halfcourt and there was a big hole, so I took it."

Said Bryant: "He's not your typical big man. He can handle the basketball and do a lot of creative things on the perimeter. He had an incredible game, running the floor, getting second-chance opportunities, taking pictures of himself. It was showtime, man. He had a great game."

On the coast-to-coast play, O'Neal's momentum carried him so far off the court that he landed in the lap of burly American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, maybe the only person in the Staples Center crowd who could have absorbed the blow of having a 7-1, 350-pound man land in his lap.

"I just want everybody to know that I am suing Ruben Studdard because when I got the dunk, I accidentally bumped him and he had his hand on my [butt], and he wouldn't let me go," O'Neal said, jokingly. "I'm suing you, Ruben."

It was somehow appropriate that O'Neal's force would be on display, in his home building, as the Lakers' center, who narrowly lost out in fan voting to start for the West, came off the bench to provide power that the East simply couldn't match.

"I've only seen one guy take a charge on Shaq when he was coming full speed down the court like that," said Rick Carlisle, the Eastern Conference coach from the Indiana Pacers. "It was Travis Best, and it was about five years ago. He took the charge around the three-point line, and he slid all the way and hit the stanchion on the floor.

"Shaq played one of those inspired, forceful games that makes him the preeminent player in our league."

The West, which won last year's game in Atlanta in double overtime, made up a six-point halftime deficit, and led by as many as seven in the second half. But the undersized East hung with the West through most of the fourth, and took a 132-131 lead with 37 seconds left, as McGrady hit one of two free throws.

On the ensuing possession, San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, the two-time reigning NBA MVP, hit a bank shot to give the West the lead at 133-132 with 26.1 seconds left.

McGrady tried to find Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal with a lob pass on the next possession, but the ball went off O'Neal's hands and landed out of bounds.

Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen was fouled and made two free throws with 14.4 seconds left to put the West ahead by three. Allen Iverson missed a three-pointer on the right wing with five seconds left, and Duncan hit one of two foul shots to seal the contest.

New Orleans Hornets center Jamaal Magloire, a surprise addition to the Eastern squad, led his team with 19 points off the bench.

In the first quarter, fans saw spectacles they aren't likely to see anywhere other than the playground or at the All-Star Game.

They saw Yao fire up a three-pointer (an air ball), Shaquille O'Neal twice operate unsuccessfully at point guard, and not a single free throw taken by either team in the period.

They also saw amazing action above the rim as the East's Vince Carter appeared to mishandle a lob from Iverson before catching it in midair and flushing it through.

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