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O'Neal's muscle leads 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 whatever rules apply go right out the window.

There were centers playing point guards, one player missing the team photo, another wearing a blue shoe and a red one, and a marriage proposal to a talk show host.

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

At the end of the day, the usual Los Angeles heroics, namely Lakers center Shaquille O"Neal's game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds were on display, as the West All-Stars pulled out a 136-132 win over the Eastern Conference last night at Staples Center.

This midseason classic was right out of the " 'blink and pos sibly miss something." like an alley-oop pass from 7-foot-5 center Yao Ming to his 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 basket ball players hitting well over half their shots from the field, but combining to shoot 50 percent from the free-throw line?

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

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 Staples Center who could have absorbed the blow of a 7-1, 350-pound man landing in his lap.

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 could not match.

His Los Angeles teammate, guard Kobe Bryant, missed the Western team photo before the game, and showed up at Staples Center 80 minutes before the contest, long after he was supposed to arrive. Bryant called league officials after he was due to report and said he would be late.

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 quarter, and took a 132-131 lead with 37 seconds left, as Orlando's Tracy McGrady, he of the differing shoes, hit one of two free throws.

On the ensuing possession, San Antonio forward Tim Duncan hit a bank shot to give the West a 133-132 lead 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 clanged off O'Neal's hands and landed out of bounds.

Seattle 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.

In the first quarter alone, 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 airball), O'Neal operate unsuccessfully at point guard, not once but twice, 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 mid-air and flushing it through. That dunk, at the 5:40 mark of the quarter, following a three-pointer from Carter 17 seconds earlier, cut the West's advantage to 17-15.

The West would balloon the lead out to 23-17, but Jason Kidd hit two three-pointers, wrapped around a Carter dunk, and before you knew it, the East had tied the score at 27 on Jamaal Magloire's 16-footer with 2:09 left.

The East led 33-31 at the end of the first quarter as Magloire, a surprise selection from the New Orleans Hornets, scored on a layup with two-tenths of a second remaining.

The East then opened the second quarter on a 15-9 run, with Magloire scoring six of his 12 points during the burst, as the starters from both conferences rested during that stretch.

The Eastern squad, which had lost four of the past five All-Star games, took its biggest lead of the half at 55-46, when New Jersey's Kenyon Martin hit a jump hook at the 5:48 mark.

The West responded with three quick baskets, a reverse layup from Minnesota's Kevin Garnett, a Brad Miller layup and a dunk from Bryant at the 4:55 mark.

After a jam by Jermaine O"Neal of Indiana, the West came back with a Miller put-back and a basket by Francis, who arched a 14-foot turnaround from the baseline over McGrady to trim the East's lead to 57-56 with three minutes left.

The East finished the half on a 7-2 run, capped by a drive from Michael Redd, one of six first-time All-Stars, as the East led at the break 64-58.

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