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Western Conference Insider: Kobe, Shaq together again?

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Jan 5 2009 6:44PM

A lot's happened since they played their last game together, way back on June 15, 2004. Since that Finals loss to the Pistons when they were Lakers teammates, Shaquille O'Neal has played for two other teams, winning a ring with Miami in 2006. Kobe Bryant demanded a trade but ultimately stayed in L.A., and won the MVP last season.

On February 15 in Phoenix, O'Neal and Bryant's 56-month long stretch as ex-teammates could come to an end at the NBA's 58th All-Star Game.

Bryant is a lock for his 11th All-Star Game selection. He leads all Western Conference players with 1,280,912 votes through the second balloting. O'Neal won't be selected through fan voting -- Yao Ming has more than double the Diesel's 546,583 votes -- but there is a strong case for him deserving a spot as a reserve.

O'Neal is averaging 17.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. His 59.1 field-goal percentage ranks second in the league. His main competitors for the position are Andris Biedrins of the Warriors, Al Jefferson of the Timberwolves and Marcus Camby of the Clippers, but all of those players play for sub-.500 teams. Shaq's Suns would be the No. 5 seed in the West if the playoffs started today.

The fact that the game is in Phoenix also should help O'Neal, as the host city almost always ends up with a player on the roster. Amar'e Stoudemire is the only other Suns player in contention. He was behind only San Antonio's Tim Duncan for Western Conference forwards in the second returns, holding a slim lead over Denver's Carmelo Anthony for the starting nod.

The exhibition might not be the last time Bryant and O'Neal play together, either. Shaq told the Sacramento Bee in November that he would be open to a return to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in 2010.

Phil's Phoenix 'punishment'

If the Lakers keep up their current pace, Bryant won't be the only team representative in the All-Star Game. With L.A. holding a six-game lead over its closest Western Conference competitor with just about a month until All-Star coaches are announced, Phil Jackson appears to be headed to Phoenix. When asked about the duty, Jackson said he "hates it" and joked that it was "punishment."

"I have to go and grin and bear it," Jackson said. "That's what you do. That's what my mom told me I have to do, make the best out of it."

Jackson, who has coached in the All-Star Game twice in the East (1992, '96) and once in the West (2000), says that what irks him about the experience is "all that stuff you have to do."

"If it was just a game," he said, "that wouldn't be so bad."

Better with age

Camby pulled down a career-high 27 boards in Chicago on Dec. 17, impressive considering the 13-year veteran turns 35 in March and already has set the rebounding bar pretty high for himself. Last season, Camby's career-high 13.1 rebounds per game was second in the league to Orlando's Dwight Howard. This year he's even better, at 13.5 per game.

"I see a lot of basketball left in Marcus Camby's future, a lottttttt of basketball left in that future," said Allen Iverson, Camby's former Nuggets teammate and the man Camby was drafted No. 2 behind in the 1996 draft.

The Clippers have needed every loose carom Camby has corralled with Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph out because of injuries. "Some nights I don't even know who the other big man is going to be out there," Camby said. "One night it's Paul [Davis], the next night it's Brian [Skinner]. One night it's Al Thornton playing the four ... so I have to come in with the mindset of trying to control the defensive glass and try to anchor our defense."

After pulling down 20 rebounds against the Pistons on Sunday, Camby has 84 rebounds over his last four games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most by any player over a four-game span since Ben Wallace collected 87 from March 14-20, 2003 as a member of the Pistons. Camby trails only Howard (13.6 per game) once again for the league lead.

Layups

With 21 points against Utah on Friday, Pau Gasol reached the 10,000-point plateau, becoming the fourth player in history to go straight from Europe to hit that mark in the NBA (following Vlade Divac, Dirk Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic) ... Warriors coach Don Nelson says that the toughest teams he's faced in either conference this season have been the Lakers and the Magic. Golden State has played Boston, in case you're wondering ... Friday at STAPLES Center, the difference between the D-League and the big show came down to one letter. C.J. Giles had 18 points and 10 rebounds for L.A. in the matinee D-Fenders-Wizards D-League game. In the Lakers-Jazz nightcap, C.J. Miles had seven points and three assists for Utah ... Darius Miles played two minutes for the Grizzlies on Sunday, making his comeback official following a two-year rehabilitation from microfracture surgery ... Jerry Sloan on his team being out of the postseason picture: "We got to fight for our life."

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