NBA.com has touched down in Houston for All-Star 2006. As part of the festivities around town, we'll provide you with behind-the-scenes coverage with our running blog.

From Q&A's with players and celebs to first-person accounts to cool photos, the NBA.com All-Star Blog will be your home for complete coverage from All-Star Weekend!

BEST OF TODAY:
A night for the ages
To win, you need originality
'Nique talks dunk, hall of fame
Smith takes video game tourney
Pau out, but for how long?

Friday: Iguodala wows, a world record is set and things overheard at media avail.
Thursday: The players arrive in Houston; Sir Charles left speechless?

The competition required more than four dunks, but with a little help from Spud, Nate came up big.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
One 4 the Ages

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sun., Feb. 19 at 12:30 a.m. ET [ Permalink ]

NBA All-Star Saturday Night always promises plenty of highlights tailor-made for the top ten segments around the world. But tonight's provided extraordinary feats by some of the world's best athletes -- tall and, well, not so tall.

We'll start with the tall, where Dirk Nowitzki became the first seven-footer to ever win the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout. Nowitzki had to overcome not only the fourth leading scorer in the game, Gilbert Arenas, and one of the purest shooters the sport has ever seen, Ray Allen, but also the fatigue factor involved with putting up such high-arching shots.

"You know, that's kind of my game," the Mavericks' center said after the event. "I'm a shooter first and then everything else comes second. I'm just glad to be here."

"Here" almost didn't include the final round, but a friendly ruling on the court was that he drilled the final money ball of the first round just as time expired to edge teammate Jason Terry.

"I looked at the clock and I only saw a couple of seconds and I still had three balls there," Nowitzki said. "So all I did, I tried to hoist them up there as quick as I can and I don't really know if I got the last one up in time or not."

The night's Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk winner also was the beneficiary of a friendly judgment on the court, by way of the five-member panel of judges, who awarded Nate Robinson bonus points for being short. To any detractors, we say, did you see Spud Webb 20 years ago? And, for that matter, did you see Spud Webb tonight?

Any man who can vault over a five-foot, seven-inch blockade and still slam home a basketball on a 10-foot rim is simply remarkable. For a man of only 5-9 to do it is nothing short of unthinkable.

While Robinson didn't become the shortest player to ever win the contest, he did join his prop, former Hawks little man Webb, in becoming the only players under 6-0 to win the contest. And it took every single inch of Robinson to not only clear Webb but also stretch out and out-point Andre Iguodala in the first competition to ever require an extra, decisive dunk.

After the event, Robinson joined another exclusive club.

"Only two people in the world have got a Spud Webb-signed jersey," Webb said to Robinson backstage after inking the jersey he wore tonight, "the Slam Dunk winner and my daughter."

Iguodala, on the other hand, is without compare as the only player to ever take a lob off the back of the glass. The move required everything to be nearly perfect -- the toss from teammate Allen Iverson to avoid hitting any of the multiple cameras mounted to the supports; the camera people seated courtside to provide an adequate runway; and Iguodala himself to duck his head just in time to avoid a trip to the emergency room.

It's only fitting the two battled in the finals, because those dunks will be the ones people remember most years from now.

The night could also be recalled as the one All-Star Saturday Night which was cruel to last year's champions, who put their titles on the line in all four events this year. Each finished in last place in their respective competitions.

Of course, Steve Nash, last year's Skills Challenge champ, and his Suns teammate Shawn Marion, a member of last year's top Shooting Stars team, have one more shot at victory before returning to their "day jobs." They're both suiting up for the West in the 55th annual NBA All-Star Game, tomorrow (8 p.m. ET on TNT). We'll be back at the Toyota Center to cover all the action.

We're Going To Overtime

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:50 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

It's a dunk off, after two tied at 94 -- each posting scores of 44 and 50.

And the extra dunk appears to be of the between-the-legs variety. Nate Robinson tried to throw the ball off the glass after jumping in the air and putting the ball between his legs at midcourt. The dunk didn't pan out as planned, and Robinson had to step in closer and take a little degree of difficulty out of the dunk, but he still scored a 47.

Iguodala's final dunk might have been one-time-too-many that he put the ball between his legs in the contest. The judges weren't as easily impressed, giving him only a 46.

So, for the second straight year, our champion has been awarded the trophy while standing alongside an '80s dunk champ from the Atlanta Hawks.

We'll be back soon to recap the evening and let you know what to look forward to tomorrow, our final day in Houston.

Sure, Spud's only 5-7, but you try jumping over any man when you're only 5-9 yourself.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
What's Your Vertical?

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:39 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

So, what's your vertical? I estimate Nate Robinson's at 67 inches. Robinson pulled out a Hawks legend -- which could prove the key to victory in this contest -- jumping over the 5'7" Spud Webb.

He Can't Do That

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:33 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

That's what we just heard about the dunk Nate Robinson is trying in the finals here -- a lob to himself off the backboard, then between the legs.

I say, he had to do it before if he's giving it a try here. But, after two misses, he's given up hope, to just try going between the legs. After four misses, the crowd got behind Robinson and he threw it down. The judges were quite forgiving of the misses, awarding him a 44.

Sure, we've seen the between-the-legs before, but you've got to believe Robinson has a little harder time palming the ball than, say, Jason Richardson.

The judges proved rather forgiving on the next attempt by Iguodala, giving him a 50 on a second try -- even if the dunk was impressive, 50 on a second try?

Hey, Haven't We Met?

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Andre Iguodala took home the MVP award in last night's T-Mobile Rookie Challenge. On the losing side, rookie Nate Robinson. The two meet in the finals. Could Nate get his share?

Out But Not Down

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:27 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Mathematically eliminated from contention, Josh Smith still gave it his best shot, taking the lob from a teammate whom he jumped over while doing a 360. After two missed tries, Smith conceded and took the lob to simply flush it home. Yeah, I said simply ...

Originality

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:24 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

If there's a lesson to be had from Hakim's first dunk, it's that you have to come up with something original. Warrick got help from his teammate Dahntay Jones, who was seated in a chair, very similar to a dunk pulled off by Josh Smith last year.

Lesson learned by Andre Iguodala, who got a little help from the other A.I ... Iggy Hop put the BACK in backboard, getting a lob off the reverse face of the glass, ducking under to reach around and slam it home. The dunk was so original and impressive that it scored all 10s and Iguodala ran clear out of the building.

No Love For The Little Man

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:16 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

If you just saw Nate take the lob from himself and finish with the 360, then you'll know how amazing it was. The judges thought so, too, all awarding scores of 10 ... except for Kenny Smith, who gave Nate an 9. Maybe "The Jet" was a little jealous he never could lift off like that.

Meanwhile, in an early entry of disappointment of the night, Josh Smith marked the floor with tape a good three feet out past the free-throw line. This brought the usual response of, "Oh no he isn't!" from the crowd, including Shaq, who got out of his seat for the show. Well, no, he wasn't, as Smith took off from the free-throw line and slammed it home two handed. Still a mighty impressive dunk, but falling far short of expectations after putting down the marker. We'll have to find out what happened.

Prelude to a Dunk

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:12 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Custom kicks are a common sight at All-Star Weekend, but this is taking it to a whole new level.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Want a preview of some of the dunks you might see? Andre Iguodala was practicing a dunk from the corner, where it appears he's going to bounce the ball behind the backboard to come get it. Meanwhile, Nate Robinson seems to be giving himself a bounce and then do a 360 on the catch.

Hakim Warrick just went first and came up under the rim to finish two handed over his head. Kenny Smith is a tough judge, however, giving the lowest score of the bunch at 8.

Shaq is sitting sideline and is apparently practicing the art of shoe cinematography. That shoe he sported last year as a telephone ... it's now a digi-cam.

Dunkers Waiting In The (With?) Wings

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 10:02 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

While we all enjoy the soaring vocal prowess of Andrea Bocelli, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Nate Robinson and Hakim Warrick await their turn to wow the Toyota Center Crowd. A few short weeks ago, Bocelli released his new album, Amore, here in the United States. We'll see if this year's dunk judges know the meaning of the word, and show a little amore to tonight's dunkers by awarding anybody a perfect 50 score.

As for those judges, we have a Houston All-Star cast assembled: Elvin Hayes, Kenny Smith, Rudy Tomjanovich, Moses Malone and Clyde "the Glide" Drexler.

We'll be here watching the participants' dunk faces, a feature you can check out on Destination: Dunk presented by Sprite.

Nobody's ever hoisted the trophy higher than Dirk.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
Dirk Does It

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:58 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Did you ever think you'd see the day a seven-footer would take a three-point shooting title? Well, then you've never seen a player like Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks big man who boasts an unusual combination of size and perimeter skills. Nowitzki's 18 final round points were enough to hold off Arenas and Ray Allen in the final round. Somehow, we have to believe his shot doctor is smiling. That or he's made notes to tell him how he could have hit even more.

Three More

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:50 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Nobody's ever going to accuse Gilbert Arenas of following convention. He was the first shooter up in the final round and he started from the left side this time around, something you don't often see. It seemed to work for Arenas, as he bettered his first round score to hit for 16, dropping the money ball after a dribble with time expiring on the clock.

And, so much for us saying Dirk might fade in the finals. He just turned in 18 points, heating up on the last rack to take the lead.

That lead's not safe with Ray Allen yet to fire away.

Taking Aim

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:40 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Three three-ball shooters have gone in the first round, with Arenas going first. The Wizards' guard said he wanted to make all of the two-point shots, but struggled early with all of them. Arenas looked to be on his way to a first-round exit, but knocked down four of the last five balls -- including the money ball -- to finish with 14. Jason Terry turned in 13, before teammate Dirk Nowitzki equaled Arenas for the early lead. Critiquing Dirk's form, it appears he shoots with too much arc to keep a consistent shot through a final round. He even looked to be fading a little by the time he got to the fifth rack of balls.

There was no fade for Ray Allen, however, who hit eight of the last 10, to finish with 19. That is one sweet stroke, which could have Allen capturing another Shootout title.

You stroke might not be as pretty as Ray's, but you can still practice your triples just like the Sonics' star with the official All-Star 06 basketball by Spalding. It's the same ball as the one the players are using for the money ball.

Saturday Night with 'Nique

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:26 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

As we hinted at earlier tonight, Hawks legend and two-time dunk champ Dominique Wilkins just stopped by to chat with NBA.com about the upcoming Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk competition.

Wilkins
Q: Last year, you watched Josh Smith put on your jersey in tribute and win the contest with one of your dunks. What was that like?

Wilkins: "It was an unbelievable feeling. It was strange in a sense, but that was the ultimate show of respect."

Q: Only Michael Jordan and Jason Richardson have ever successfully defended their Championships. Do you believe Smith can repeat this year?

Wilkins: "Oh no question about it. All he has to do is come out strong and he has to do a little something different from last year. And not miss."

Q: Did Smith talk with you at all about this year's contest?

Wilkins: "A little bit. The thing I told Josh is to come out strong and don't take anything for granted. You're the defending champ, you've got to make them chase you."

Q: What are your thoughts on this year's field?

Wilkins: "It's pretty good. Andre Iguodala, I think, is going to be amazing. Nate Robinson is going to be the crowd favorite because he's a little guy. He's the new Spud. From what Spud told me, he's going to be pretty good."

Q: What are the keys to winning this competition? And, how much of a factor is size?

Wilkins: "Well, it's not so much the size, it's more the creativity. Creativity wins. And limit your misses."

Q: In 1988, many think you were robbed and say you really won that contest with Michael Jordan. Did you?

Wilkins: "Yeah. The most enjoyment I got out of it is that Jordan and I loved to compete and put on a show for the fans.

Q: Yesterday, you were again announced as a Hall of Fame finalist. What would it mean to you to be inducted in the Hall?

Wilkins: "The ultimate show of respect and validation as a player. I thought it was my time last year, but hopefully everything will be put in its place this year."

The Sun Has Set

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:18 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

It's a tough night to be wearing purple and orange. First the Phoenix team tanked in the Shooting Stars, then Steve Nash more than doubled his time from last year, finishing last of the four competitors.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, however, are faring much better as they advanced to the final round. James finished with a powerful dunk at the end of each of his turns. Wade, however, was precise in the final round, beating 'Bron by more than seven full seconds to take the 2006 title.

Just Like LeBron ... Sort of

Posted by John Schuhmann: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:12 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Earlier in the evening, we rode the bus over with the Skills Challenge and Shooting Stars participants, who were the first to arrive at the Toyota Center. They quickly got changed and, before heading upstairs for their photo shoot, LeBron James made an observation.

"Steve Kerr might not miss a shot today," James noted. "Look at those shoes he got on."

The shoes? Well, they were white Zoom LeBron III's. We asked Kerr about his choice of footwear later on.

"I have a good story for you," Kerr told us. "I didn't bring any shoes. I forgot them when I packed for the trip because I was more concerned with my broadcasting duties. I borrowed these from my thirteen year old son about five minutes before I went out and put my uniform on."

Steve Nash was running a little late at the Skills Challenge photo shoot, so LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul had some time to hang out and chat. Talking about the night ahead, James wondered why he wasn't in the Shooting Stars competition. Then, he realized ...

"Oh, we don't got no legends," James said. "Or no women's team either."

If you're following along at home, track all the scores live.

PSP Me Please

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 9:09 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

There's more on the line than bragging rights in tonight's skills challenge. The players are linked with sections around the building, where we're hearing the fans seated there get a Sony PlayStation PSP if their player wins the competition. When Steve Nash was announced along with his section, the group went wild, to which he raised a fist and pumped it, as if to say, "We've got it."

Nash looked sharp in warmups, threading the ball through the passing stations, which promise to be the most problematic tonight.

From First to Worst

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 8:58 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

So, much for that prediction. With a time of 47.7 seconds, the Phoenix team finished in last place. Winning the event was the San Antonio team, with a record time of 25.1 seconds.

Next up: The PlayStation Skills Challenge, which could have the most loaded field of the night. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul will try to take the title from last year's winner, Steve Nash.

From Downtown

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 8:52 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

The bar has been set in the Shooting Stars competition. Both Tony Parker and Kobe Bryant knocked down the very first half-court attempt for their respective teams. Houston's up next, then Phoenix. Remember, Majerle says he's hitting one.

UPDATE: Houston just went and T-Mac hit his second shot, after Drexler and Swoopes each missed two. The NBA stars are showing their aim is true.

Surprise ...

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 8:48 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Did you see the looks on the players' faces when the National Anthem singer was announced? Some where priceless, as they heard a familiar name: L.A. Clippers forward Walter McCarty. What is somewhat of a formality for the players, caught their attention as they looked on to see just what kind of pipes their fellow hooper had. Suffice it to say, he passed the test, as Jason Terry cupped his hands to his mouth and let out a hoot when Walter was carrying the final notes.

We have a surprise guest coming to chat with us in a short while ... None other than Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins, a candidate for enshirnement into the Basketball Hall of Fame, which was announced yesterday. We'll talk with 'Nique about the honor as well as something he knows plenty about: the dunk contest. Keep checking back to see what he had to say.

1 + 2 = Three-Point Shooters

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 8:35 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Gilbert's going for 10. Chauncey's just planning on getting off every ball in the racks.

The six marksmen in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout got together on the Rockets practice court moments ago for a team portrait. Waiting for Dirk and Jason Terry, the others -- Billups, Ray Allen, Arenas and Quentin Richardson -- traded secrets about the money ball, which has a totally different feel than the balls used for the one-point shots.

"It's light, light, light, light, HEAVY," said Arenas. "It's dead."

Arenas is only concerned about hitting that dead ball, however, to stay alive. "I figure if I miss them all and make the last one (in each rack), I'll be good. I'll get 10 (points)."

For Billups, it's quantity over quality. He's confident in his shot and is willing to play the numbers game. "I may not make them all, but I'm going to get them all off."

And we're off, for the introductions of tonight's participants.

Thunder Dan Makes Noise

Posted by Johannes Berendt: Sat., Feb. 18 at 8:15 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

The RadioShack Shooting Stars are on the court with only a few moments to go before the contest gets underway. Thunder Dan had three things that we can expect from his Phoenix team:

1. Win
2. Have fun
3. Win

Sounds like he's not short on confidence, which was evident with the prediction he gave next: He'd sink the half-court shot.

Little Man Nate

Posted by Johannes Berendt: Sat., Feb. 18 at 7:38 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Believe it or not, but Nate Robinson never dunked in a game before his sophomore year in college. That is what he told reporters while getting ready for the Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest. “I was 14 or 15 when I first dunked and it was a volleyball.”

Robinson also met fellow little guy Spud Webb this week but didn't receive any insight on how to win the contest.

"I will just try to stay on until the finals, going through the basics I have practiced in the last two weeks," he added. “Then I have something special for the final round.”

For all things dunk, visit Destination: Dunk presented by Sprite on NBA.com.

Blue Sox Scandal

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

We nearly had the scandal of the night, when Gilbert Arenas changed into his gear before hitting the floor for warmups. The locker was set up for Gilby when he arrived, complete with jersey on a hanger, shorts on a hook and shoes tucked neatly underneath. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to include a pair of socks. After turning his locker -- inside the Houston Rockets locker room -- upside-down, Arenas looked into the lockers on the left and right of his own, one of which beloned to Dirk Nowitzki. It wouldn't have been hard to tell who took Dirk's socks -- they were Mavs blue. Fortunately, somebody came to Gilby's rescue and he was able to "Go get my shot on."

Smith Is A Slam Dunk

Posted by Brad Friedman: Sat., Feb. 18 at 7:09 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Smith celebrates is first victory of All-Star Weekend.
Chris Graythen/NBAE/Getty Images
The Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Championship hasn't started but Josh Smith knows he will already be going home with one trophy and feels confident he'll be taking home a second.

Smith won the NBA Live 06 tournament at the EA All-Star Party Thursday night held at the posh club Belvedere. In total eight rookies and eight sophomores competed, with Chris Paul meeting Smith in the Finals.

Smith rode the talents of Manu Ginobili and pushed the ball up-the-floor, while also sending Paul to the charity stripe frequently, where the Hornets guard missed a number of crucial free throws.

J-Smooth admitted he hasn't played a lot of Live this season with the busy NBA season underway, so he was exuberant to emerge as the title-holder from a field of some avid gamers. Did Smith believe he could have the same success Saturday night, and successfully defend his Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Crown?

"I'm really excited," Smith said with a smile. "I've been working on some things. I'm really confident I can take it."

Smith knows how to stir up drama and work a crowd -- like when he pulled a Dominique Wilkins retro Hawks jersey out of nowhere last year and threw it on -- so we should have known he'd refuse to let us in on what he had planned.

Guess we'll just have to wait until tonight.

Sun Always Rises

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 6:50 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

The racks are in place for both the RadioShack Shooting Stars and the PlayStation Skills Challenge and a few of the participants are going through the paces, getting a feel for the event. We have to say, Phoenix, the defending champs, are looking like they could again take the Shooting Stars competition. They have Marion and Thunder Dan back, but this year added the Mercury's Kelly Miller in place of Diana Taurasi. Miller can flat-out shoot. The trio breezed through the sequence of shots and then each took two tries -- all making solid contact with the basket -- from half court before Marion sank the long bomb.

Lisa Leslie may have been watching Tim Duncan too much during her offseason. During her shootaround, she banked every attempt from the first station -- making those not knocked off course by Marjerle. Um, Dan, that's a no-no once the competition gets underway.

Oh, It's Oprah

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 6:25 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Welcome back to the Toyota Center. Tonight we've got a serious cast of All-Stars showcasing their individual talents in a variety of contests. Whether you're a fan of precision passing, high-flying dunkers or long-range gunners, tonight we've got it all.

But, before we get to action on the court, we're turning our attention to the sidelines, where Oprah just appeared. She's joined by Mary J. Blige, for a quick photo shoot on the court before the Skills Challenge and Shooting Stars stations are put in place.

Smoke and Mirrors

Posted by Johannes Berendt: Sat., Feb. 18 at 3:54 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Famous illusionist David Blaine visited the West locker room for the recording of a new show on ABC. We know the superstars can make some magic themselves, but how about someone who plays tricks on them? Well, guess what? The West All-Stars were certainly enjoying it.

Kobe Bryant found it was "cool," but nothing came close to Tracy McGrady's reaction when the magician successfully worked a card trick on him.

"There's no way he can pick it," T-Mac vowed. As Blaine came up with the right card, McGrady threw the whole pack on the ground in sheer disbelief.

Elton Brand noted that T-Mac wasn't the only one wowed by Blaine's wizardry.

"The best thing was to see Yao's face," Brand said.

So if you want to witness speechless NBA All-Stars, check out David's new show soon.

The Visitors Take Court

Posted by John Schuhmann: Sat., Feb. 18 at 2:41 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

The East All-Stars made their way to Jam Session this morning for practice. Before taking the court, East reserve guard Gilbert Arenas handed out 25 of his jerseys to fans. On the court, it was not the most intense practice you will see, as they started out doing a three-man weave at half speed and then broke into teams of three for a shooting contest. For the record, the teams were:

• LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, Chauncey Billups
• Gilbert Arenas, Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace
• Vince Carter, Ben Wallace, Dwyane Wade
• Paul Pierce, Richard Hamilton, Chris Bosh

Rasheed shot lefty, Arenas took most of his shots from a few feet beyond the designated spot and the score wasn't really kept. After that, Coach Flip Saunders went over a few offensive sets with the starters (which included Vince Carter) and Chris Bosh while assistant Sidney Lowe did the same on the other side of the court with the other six players.

Assistant Ron Harper (decked out in a gorgeous Nike sweatsuit and red Air Jordan XXI's - which we had never seen before) was scared off from his spot under the backboard when Shaquille O'Neal threw down a thunderous jam that shook the stanchion.

That was it for anything formal, as Saunders then organized a half-court shooting contest, and this is where the players' competitive spirit came out. In the first round, LeBron James hit off-glass and it looked like he was going to be the winner ... until Jermaine O'Neal stepped out and swished it, allowing everyone once who had missed back into the contest for Round 2.

Shaq was shooting baseball-style, Rasheed was shooting lefty and everybody missed in Rounds 2 and 3. Then Richard Hamilton swished it midway through Round 4. Again, Jermaine was the last to go and he paused as his teammates encouraged him, hoping he would send them into one more round, but it was not to be. His shot was off, and your 2006 East All-Stars Practice Halfcourt Shooting Champion is Richard Hamilton.

East practice was over and the West All-Stars joined them on the court for 25 minutes of media availability. Both teams were swarmed and we got a couple of quotes from some of the stars:

Chauncey Billups on the halfcourt shooting contest:
"Everybody thinks they can hit that shot. Even though only a couple of dudes hit it, we all think we can hit that shot."

Elton Brand's prediction for the game:
"I think the West is probably gonna crash 'em. That's what I'm looking for. We might keep it competitive for the ratings, but I think we're gonna get 'em."

Vince Carter on being named the starter:
"It's always a pleasure and an honor to be named a starter."

East Coach Flip Saunders on choosing Vince:
"I just thought that he's had a great year. The starters are always the people that are voted in by the fans and he's probably the guy that has had the most votes over the last seven years than anybody. It's a reward for how he's played and how he's been able to come back from a couple of years ago and play at a high level."

Tim Duncan on matching up with either Carter or LeBron:
"I don't feel too good about that matchup honestly. I don't know if it will be Vince or LeBron, but I gotta give the advantage to them. I don't know what I'm gonna be able to do (offensively). I just hope not to get blown by on the other end."

Video: NBA TV caught up with Carter and cousin Tracy McGrady, who talked plenty of trash.

Where's Pau?

Posted by Jeff Dengate: Sat., Feb. 18 at 2:00 p.m. ET [ Permalink ]

Hakim Warrick and Pau Gasol posed for photos Friday. The rookie dunks tonight, but will Pau play tomorrow?
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
We're here at the NBA Entertainment headquarters going through some final preparations for a big night while some of our crew is over at Jam Session getting the scoop on tomorrow's All-Stars, who are going through their first official practice session as a team. For the West, there's been one noticable thing missing: Pau Gasol's beard.

No, he hasn't parted with the attention-grabbing growth, sorry to alarm you. But Gasol was nowhere to be found. We got word he was skipping practice -- doctor's orders -- because of a severe sore throat. But with a good deal of rest today, he should be able to participate tomorrow in his first-ever All-Star Game:

"I want to apologize to the fans and media that were waiting for me at practice," Gasol said, "but I don't feel well and if I want to be part of the game, I've got to take a long rest until tomorrow to save some energy."

Meanwhile, Atlanta Hawks rookie Esteban Batista is probably hoping his teammate Josh Smith is conserving his evergy for tonight's Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk.

"I have been playing with him and against him since the preseason," the Uruguay native said, "and he can just fly to the rim whenever he wants."

Batista is in Houston helping lead the Jr. NBA and Jr. WNBA clinics at the Centro Latino court at Jam Session.

"I didn't realize how big this is until I got here," the Uruguay native said. "It is great to be at All-Star sharing with the kids, fans and the other players."

This evening, we'll be back at the Toyota Center for the Saturday Night lineup. Make sure to tune to TNT (8 p.m. ET) and join us here on the blog.

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