HOUSTON, Feb. 18 -- Our intrepid reporter Johannes Berendt captured the odd, the interesting and the intriguing from the West's practice session Saturday at All-Star Jam Session.


Tony Parker showed no signs of wear after staging his personal party in Houston last night. Still, we caught him in his attempts to bribe Avery Johnson, possibly into more playing time. The Frenchman gave his All-Star coach a pair of his own sneakers.

"Man, they look great," said A.J. "I'm getting jealous."


Nash was all smiles at West practice on Saturday.
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Dirk Nowitzki hung out with Steve Nash for most of the morning. The duo, which developed a close friendship during their playing days on the Mavs, had enjoyed a quiet night out on Friday.

"It is always something special to play with him since he is one of my best friends," said Dirk. "He is an amazing player and somehow gets the maximum out of everyone."

Dirk was looking forward for tonight's T-Mobile Three-Point Challenge.

"I've been in the finals twice so I will desperately try to win it this time," the German told us. “But the shooting is just so much different from regular matches."

By the way, if you want to check out what Dirk's favorite drink is (hint: it's cold and German), check out his global mailbox.

One thing Steve and Dirk regularly talk about is soccer, and last season's MVP enjoyed answering football (soccer for you Americans) questions during media availability before practice.

"My favorite team in Italy is Juventus Turin and in Germany I am a fan of Bayern Munich because there is a Canadian on it," Nash noted.

His fellow countryman is NBA.com blogger Owen Hargreaves. Steve asked us to give the warmest regards to the midfielder, whose blogged this week about All-Star Weekend.

"Tell him I will try to come over for the World Cup," Steve asked.


With hundreds of reporters swarming all over the court trying to track players, Kobe Bryant escaped the frenzy by quietly sitting down at his team's bench. No one dared to approach the Lakers star until we asked him to deliver a message to the global NBA.com audience. "We will try to put on a good show and publicize the sport of basketball," Kobe said, "enjoy the All-Star Game and enjoy the NBA."

Right after we were finished, Kobe had microphones all over him and would not be left alone for the rest of media availability.


Brand says KG's the best talker in the NBA.
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Elton Brand considers Vince Carter and Josh Smith the best dunkers in the league. Also, he finds that Kevin Garnett has taken Gary Payton's trash-talking crown.

"Gary used to have that title for a while but now the biggest trash talker would be KG," stated Brand. "He talks to himself a lot but that is also trash."


Avery Johnson not only entertained his All-Stars but also pleased the crowd with his practice session. After putting his troops through some warm-up running and basic plays (floppy up, floppy down, triangle), he ordered them to do the "Tim Duncan shot", a mid-range bank shot.

So how does A.J. feel about coaching the superstars?

"It will be very exciting to coach them for two hours," the former Spurs and Mavs point guard said. "I wanted to be a coach all my life. I've played with Steve, Dirk, Duncan and I've played against Kobe, so it is very special."

What coach has had the most impact on him, a reporter wanted to know?

"Pop, but Nelson is right up there as well," Johnson said. "And don't forget about Bernie Bickerstaff. I learned a lot from Bernie on how to work with young players."

A.J. turned practice into a mini-contest. He placed the starters in one half and the reserves in the other. Whoever sinks 11 jumpers first wins, while the crowd counts. The reserves proved better mid-court jump shooters, with the starters taking the honors from the wings. It was the bench guys, however, who then won the tiebreaker from three-point land. Even Yao hit one from downtown but it did not help the starters.

The West then practiced a potential game-winning three-pointer. So with the game on the line, watch out for Nash inbounding to Kobe, who will either put up a triple himself or give it back to Nash who cuts past him.

The West wrapped up practice with another shooting contest from mid-court. Dirk Nowitzki came closest with a running jumper that rattled in and out before A.J. grew impatient.

Woo-hoo! Kobe hits the halfcourt shot.
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"You better hurry up, less than two minutes remaining, you don't want your coach to come in?" he smiled.

Guess who hit nothing but net in his fourth attempt? It's the same guy who chipped in 81 points a while ago. Kobe Bryant.

Wonder how Yao fared? Despite loud cheers from the crowd, the hometown favorite had two air balls, missed the length of the backboard with his first shot and also missed on his fourth attempt.


Before practice, each player had to go through an autograph session comprising of more than 150 balls that needed to be signed. Kobe Bryant was the last one to finish the signing.

"Thanks for coming, Kobe," said seven-year-old John, who helped NBA Entertainment staff in their coordinating efforts.


Memphis forward Pau Gasol turned sick and did not show up for practice. The Spaniard hopes to be fit for his first All-Star appearance tomorrow ... Ice Cube was in the stands giving interviews and watching the training session.

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