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NBA all-Stars vouch for game's viability

| Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Since when does having fun translate into bad basketball• That's what some of the best players in the world want to know.

Tonight's NBA All-Star Game at the Amway Center won't likely compare with the 1988 edition, when Michael Jordan told his Eastern Conference teammates at halftime he didn't plan on losing, even if it didn't count in the standings.

The East not only won the game, Jordan took home MVP honors.

Who will be this year's Jordan, choosing to treat the All-Star Game more like Game 7 of the NBA Finals• Maybe no one. Jordan was a unique talent who hated to lose and outworked everybody. But that doesn't mean this generation of basketball icons don't take the game seriously.

"I want to win,'' said Chicago Bulls guard and Eastern Conference All-Star Derrick Rose. "Go out there, play hard and just try to make the game fun for fans."

"Usually the game is an up-and-down game," said Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, an 11-time All-Star. "There's going to be lots of dunks. I'm sure there will be some great highlights. I'm just here to enjoy the weekend.''

Enjoying All-Star Weekend doesn't mean players won't play hard in the All-Star Game, said NBA commissioner David Stern, who likes his game the way it is.

The winner's of this year's All-Star Game will receive $50,000 apiece. The losers will receive $25,000.

"Our players aren't motivated by the prizes,'' Stern said.

Stern doesn't foresee eliminating the NBA All-Star Game as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is said to be considering doing with the Pro Bowl. Nor does Stern feel that it's necessary to light a competitive fire under his players the way Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig did when he designated that the victorious league in the All-Star Game would be the host team in the World Series that year.

Stern was asked what motivates his players for the All-Star Game.

"What they are motivated by is the opportunity to demonstrate their vast array of skills, and they understand that is really just a combined celebration of our sport,'' Stern said.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is motivated by redemption.

"I did so bad last year, I'm going to be more focused and ready to make some shots this year,'' said Durant, who scored 34 points for the Western Conference in his second All-Star Game last year but made only five of 25 shots in the Three-Point Shootout for the lowest point total in the competition since 2005. "All that smiling stuff I was doing last year is going to be out the window.''

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who's making his All-Star Game coaching debut, is offended by the suggestion that players don't take the game seriously.

"We've got a competitive group of guys,'' Brooks said. "They're not All-Stars because they're not competitive. They're going to try to win the game, but they're going to have fun, too. (Thursday night) was a fun game for us against the Lakers (a 100-85 Thunder win, tying them with Miami for the best record in the league).

"You have to be serious. You have to be competitive. You also have to have fun. It's a game that we all love to play. Our players are going to respect the game by playing hard.''

Nowitzki has participated in enough of these games to know players need to balance playing in the All-Star Game with their regular season-schedule.

Immediately following the All-Star Game, Dallas opens the second half of the season playing four games in five days, including two sets of back-to-back games.

As much as players like Nowitzki may want to treat tonight's game like a postseason matchup, circumstances could dictate otherwise.

In Nowitzki's case, he's rounding back into shape following a knee injury and is only now beginning to return to form. However, the Mavericks have a key stretch of games coming up and they need Nowitzki to be ready.

"This is obviously a tough one, since we have so many games coming up after the break,'' Nowitzki said. "Starting Tuesday, we have to go back-to-back. I slept a little (Thursday) morning, I had a good dinner (Wednesday) night. I'm gonna find a good mix of having some fun and having some fun in the game.''

Nowitzki, who led the Mavericks to their first title last season, isn't upset that fans have never voted him a starter in the All-Star Game. What's more, Nowitzki said he understands why.

Nowitzki will come off the bench tonight behind Western Conference starting forwards Durant and second-year Los Angeles Clippers dunk king Blake Griffin, both fan favorites.

"If I'm a fan and I see a guy having a 40-inch vertical dunking over people (Griffin), and then I see a white guy shooting a 16-footer on one leg, who do I vote for?'' Nowitzki said. "My vote would go to the guy who dunks over three people. I can't be too mad at the fans for voting for somebody else. It is what it is.''

Let the good times roll.

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