West All-Stars vs East All-Stars Preview

Orlando waited 20 years to host All-Star weekend again, and Dwight Howard wants nothing to spoil the party. So forget that trade request, Magic fans. Ignore the rapidly approaching deadline for deals.

When: 7:00 PM ET, Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Oddsmakers currently have the East All-Stars listed as 3½-point favorites versus the West All-Stars, while the game’s total is sitting at 285.

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First Held: 1951
Series Record: East 36, West 24
2012 Dates: Feb. 24-26
2012 Site: Orlando – Amway Center
All-Star Friday: Celebrity All-Star Game, (ESPN, 7 ET); Rising Stars Challenge, (TNT/ESPN Radio, 9 ET)
All-Star Saturday: Shooting Stars, Three-Point Shootout, Taco Bell Skill Challenge, Slam Dunk Contest (TNT/ESPN Radio, 8 ET)
All-Star Sunday: 2012 NBA All-Star Game, (TNT/ESPN Radio, 7 ET)

Jeremy Lin has been the NBA’s biggest story this month, but the focus shifted back to Howard, where it began this season, with the NBA’s midseason event in the city he insists he loves but wants to leave.

That meant a wall of reporters and cameras surrounding him, asking the same questions Carmelo Anthony was peppered with last year during All-Star Friday, just before his trade request from Denver was granted.

“Thank you, Dwight!” Anthony yelled when he spotted the swarm. “It’s your turn!”

Howard has asked for a trade, but he’s still here and there’s no telling for how much longer. The Magic could deal their center before the March 15 trade deadline, or hold onto him all season and risk losing him while getting nothing back in July.

Howard’s table was between Anthony and LeBron James, two of the league’s best-known stars. Yet neither had anywhere near the attention of Howard, and Anthony was glad to yield the spotlight after his status overshadowed last year’s festivities in Los Angeles.

“I’m glad it’s not me anymore,” Anthony said.

James went through the free agency circus the season before, and acknowledged that it wore on him.

“Yeah, absolutely,” James said. “I know exactly what he’s going through. It’s a tough situation but he’s going to handle it. He’s a man. He’s going to handle it. He’s going to do what’s best for him.”

Lin wasn’t forgotten, even after James and the Heat on Thursday forced him into the worst game since he became the Knicks’ starter earlier this month. Many All-Stars were asked about Lin, who was playing only in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge featuring rookies and second-year players yet was given his own evening press conference to accommodate the large media interest.

Howard said every time he watches TV, he sees something about Lin, the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. He was asked if there was anything that could stop the undrafted guard from Harvard.

“Uh, he hasn’t gone up against the Great Wall of Orlando yet,” Howard said.

This wall may be moveable.

The Magic have given Howard’s agent permission to discuss deals with the Nets, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, and there was plenty of speculation he could be dealt even before the season began, just as Chris Paul was.

That would have created an awkward All-Star reunion.

Howard literally towers over this city, his face pictured on billboards overlooking the interstate and on a giant Adidas ad high atop the outside of the Amway Center. This region caters to visitors, but didn’t have to consider how it would have welcomed Howard.

“I’m here, so it doesn’t matter what would’ve or should’ve happened,” he said. “But you know I’m here and we want to have a great time. I’m looking forward to all the events and showing everybody my city.”

With its new arena in just its second season, Orlando is hosting the All-Star game for the first time since 1992, one of the NBA’s most memorable. Magic Johnson won MVP honors only a few months following his retirement after contracting the HIV virus.

Even Shaquille O’Neal, who has been critical of Howard in the past, says he hopes the MVP this time goes to Howard. O’Neal started his career with the Magic before bolting as a free agent, and he said recently it would be a “travesty” if Howard leaves.

If fans fear Howard following Shaq’s path, he said they never tell him.

“Whatever you decide to do, we’re behind you 100 percent,” they say, according to Howard.

“They’ve been great,” Howard added. “Despite what people may say or think, the fans here have always been great to me. I really appreciate it. They’ve showed me nothing but love from Day 1 and I’ve done the same thing. This city means a lot to me.”

Howard said he was looking forward to playing this weekend with James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade, who join league MVP Derrick Rose in the powerful Eastern Conference starting lineup.

The West is an L.A. story, with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers joining the Clippers’ Paul and Blake Griffin. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant rounds out the first five.

The All-Star weekend would have been in jeopardy had the lockout lasted much longer. An agreement was reached during Thanksgiving weekend and the season opened on Christmas, allowing for a 66-game schedule.

The play has been sloppy and injuries have piled up as players navigate a schedule that forced them to play on three straight nights for the first time since 1999, following the last work stoppage. All the All-Stars said they were eager to be here, even though many probably would benefit from the rest.

And Wade said ugly play won’t be a problem Sunday night.

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