Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Bryant pressured to score

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION Bryant went into the All-Star break averaging 35 points per game, with Allen Iverson at 33.2 and LeBron James at 31.2

AP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

Kobe Bryant, a member of the Western Conference NBA All-Stars, speaks to the media on Friday ahead of the 2006 NBA All-Star game in Houston, Texas.

PHOTO: EPA

Kobe Bryant won't make any predictions about how many he'll put up today in the NBA All-Star game, even though scoring has made him the biggest attraction in the league during the first half of the season.

"I just look forward to going out there and winning the game, playing defense, believe it or not, doing whatever we need to win the game," he said.

Uh, sorry Kobe. People in more than 200 countries aren't tuning in to watch you block shots.

The possibilities seem endless. After scoring 81 points in a game this season, imagine how many Bryant can get in a game where there is little defense played.

"I think it's fun to have the discussions about Kobe," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "I think it's a terrific water cooler subject. Can he go for 100? Can he outscore a team by himself?"

The latter seems unlikely, given that the Eastern Conference counters with Allen Iverson and LeBron James, who trail Bryant in what is shaping up as the most exciting scoring race in years.

Bryant went into the All-Star break averaging 35 points, with Iverson at 33.2 and James at 31.2. The NBA hasn't had three players average 30 or more points since 1982, when George Gervin beat out Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley to win the scoring title.

Bryant and Iverson have already been the stars in the NBA's showcase.

Iverson won his second MVP award in the East's victory last year in Denver, and Bryant took the award in 2002 after scoring 31 points back home in Philadelphia.

Maybe now it's James' turn. The Cleveland star headed into his second All-Star game after scoring 43 points in a win over San Antonio on Monday, then adding 43 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a victory over Boston on Wednesday.

James, the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft, made his All-Star debut last year with 13 points, and he goes into the break with comfortable playoff position -- which Bryant and Iverson don't have -- after leading the Cavs to the third-best record in the East.

The All-Star game record, by the way, is 42 points, and Bryant wasn't surprised at all to learn who held it.

"Wilt? Oh, couldn't have guessed that one," he said with a smile.

Wilt Chamberlain set that record in 1962, the year of his 100-point game. Bryant's total of 81 against Toronto in January was the next-highest in a NBA game.

The scoring race has sometimes overshadowed the other big story of the first half, the play of the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons got off to one of the best starts in NBA history before cooling off a bit and taking a 42-9 record into the break.

Though none of its players was elected to start, four Detroit players were voted in as reserves. Pistons coach Flip Saunders, who will coach the East, said he may send Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace into the game at the same time.

"We are definitely going to have to work it out where all of us are on the floor together," Billups said. "We've got the man that is in control of it, so we should be able to work that out."

All-Star weekend is back in Houston for the first time since 1989, when the game drew 44,735 fans at the Astrodome. It's a rare chance to celebrate this season for the city's fans, who have watched the Rockets stumble into last place while enduring injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

Both players will start for the West, and Yao could garner more attention from the worldwide audience than any of the other 23 All-Stars. China has sent seven electronic media outlets to Houston.

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