Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokoun­mpo leads Team LeBron to 170-150 victory.

- By Paul Newberry

ATLANTA » Even in the strangest NBA All-Star Game of them all, LeBron James was still the perfect captain.

Team LeBron showed off its high-flying and long-range skills during a dominating run to close

out the first half, setting up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.

This one sure was different than the previous 69.

Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the NBA staged the game in a mostly empty downtown arena, a made-for-TV extravagan­za that was symbolic of the coronaviru­s era.

Despite extensive safety protocols in place, two players didn’t even make it to tipoff. Philadelph­ia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because they got haircuts from a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.

Once the game began, it fell right in line with the three pre

vious All-Star outings with the captain format. The top votegetter­s in each conference pick the teams, a duty that James has earned all four years.

He’s now 4-0, having defeated Stephen Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokoun­mpo the previous two years.

This time, James drafted his two former adversarie­s to assemble a dominant squad that blew away Kevin Durant’s team.

Antetokoun­mpo was the game’s MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points, even making all three of his attempts beyond the 3-point stripe.

“I’m just having fun,” the Greek star said. “Sometimes when you’re having fun and not thinking about the outcome, you just let your instincts take over.”

Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Damian Lillard had 32.

Curry won the 3-point competi- tion beforehand, then went 8 of 16 from beyond the arc in the game. Lillard matched him, also making 8 of 16 from 3-point range.

James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill from the bench. He played less than 13 minutes, scored just four points, and didn’t return to the court in the second half.

Instead, he munched on a snack on the bench.

“I think he’s got a future as a GM,” Lillard said. “He always gets it right.”

The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participat­e in this shellackin­g, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.

Bradley Beal led Team Durant with 26 points.

On a night highlighti­ng Historical­ly Black Colleges and Universiti­es, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and was first to reach the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.

With scant defense being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-toback lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.

After showing it could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.

Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the half-court line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.

“It was a lot of fun,” Lillard said. “Me and Steph shoot a lot of 3s. We shoot deep 3s. It was 3, 3, 3, 3, 3.”

The atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.

Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebritie­s crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentiall­y transforme­d into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.

Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainm­ent was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks.

To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagan­t parties, gridlocked streets and people watching

This All-Star Game was a onenight-only event, with a pair of skill competitio­ns held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.

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 ?? BRYNN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Bucks forward Giannis Antetokoun­mpo, left, who was named MVP, celebrates with Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
BRYNN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Bucks forward Giannis Antetokoun­mpo, left, who was named MVP, celebrates with Nuggets center Nikola Jokic during Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
 ?? BRYANN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? LeBron James played just 13 minutes in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game with his team enjoying a 170-150 win.
BRYANN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS LeBron James played just 13 minutes in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game with his team enjoying a 170-150 win.

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