HOUSTON, Feb. 18 -- As a player NBA All-Star Weekend contains a lot of joy and a lot of excitement. Even with all the hype built into the game, it’s really a special honor to be selected among many great players. Being chosen puts you in an elite group, at least for this season. It is a challenge every year to get back to the game, but for guys who are able to do it repetitively, it is even more special.

Without Jermaine O'Neal, the East will lean on Shaq and Big Ben.
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The All-Star Game was one of my top highlights as a player. In my eye, it gave me good idea of where I ranked among my peers. That was always my benchmark to say that I am still in the upper echelon of players.

The Battle for MVP

The East is losing a little bit with Jermaine O’Neal unable to play. It is not that his absence hurts the game as much as I would have loved to see the match-up voted by the fans. It was probably one of the best match-ups by position that we’ve seen in a long time in the All-Star Game.

Even without Jermaine’s presence, the frontcourts for both teams are loaded and should be entertaining to watch them compete as Ben Wallace and Shaq go up against Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

I’m giving the West the edge in this game primarily because of Kobe Bryant’s presence and the fact that this is going to be his big day. There in an extra buzz surrounding this game because of what Kobe has done in the first half.

There is great anticipation that he will do something special on Sunday and since he relishes the big stage, I really don’t think he’ll disappoint. Even though he’s cooled down as of late, he embraces big moments and besides, I’m sure he’ll want to add another MVP award to his collection to go along with his 2002 honor.

Kobe for MVP? Maybe Parker?
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If Kobe doesn’t take home MVP honors, one surprise pick could be Tony Parker. Even though he’s a first-time All-Star, he’s capable of flourishing in this uptempo game plus it doesn’t hurt that he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot.

Another player is Shawn Marion, whose terrific play always seems to be overlooked. Marion doesn’t need the ball in his hands. He’s constantly in motion and can find his offense in many ways throughout the game whether it is from offensive rebounds or just running the lane.

The fact that this is his third time around will make him more relaxed. He is capable of putting up some big numbers, especially playing alongside his Suns teammate Steve Nash. If you wanted to try and figure out which one guy can sneak in there and come away with the MVP, it would be Marion.

Home Cooking

With the game being in Houston, there is always a good chance of the local guys taking home the MVP Trophy and that means Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady or both.

Will hometown heroes Yao or T-Mac rise to the occasion?
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In the past, some of the players would defer to the hometown guys, always making the extra pass. In the end, though, it has a lot to do with how well you are performing. I am sure if Yao is having a great game and they’re going to him, and he is starting to show that MVP-type of performance, the other players are going to embrace that.

The same goes for Tracy. That is what the All-Star Game is really about. It’s about great players recognizing what’s going on around them. Standout individual performances just naturally happen. It’s nothing that you can anticipate or put in anyone’s hands before the event begins.

Bottom Line

I like the West for many reasons. The fact that Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are at home and will have the crowd behind them will certainly help. Plus, they’re playing alongside Kobe Bryant who is a strong candidate for league MVP as well as MVP of the All-Star Game. Throw in Tim Duncan and their familiarity of being in the event, and you can bet that they are going to be the top performers.

Personally, I’m looking forward to a Kobe-LeBron matchup. Guys are going to kind of let it hang out for the first three quarters, but if the game is close down the stretch, expect something big to happen. These guys are playing the game on a totally different level now. One thing that we can be sure of is that someone will do something amazing that we will be talking about the next day.

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