NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 17, 2008 -- Two years ago, it was four Pistons playing together that sparked a key run for the East in its 122-120 win in Houston. This year, it was another group of teammates that did the same thing for the East.

No, I'm not talking about the three Pistons or the two Celtics in uniform for the East here in New Orleans. I'm talking about USA Basketball teammates Jason Kidd, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. The trio started for Team USA this summer at the FIBA Americas tournament in Las Vegas and went 10-0 on their way to gold.

Tonight, they started together for the East and led them to a 134-128 victory at New Orleans Arena. James was the MVP with 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, Howard was one rebound short of a double-double, and Kidd dished out 10 dimes.

But the numbers don't tell the whole story. It was the chemistry that the three displayed from the start of the game that keyed the East win. Chemistry can be hard to come by in an All-Star Game, but when you have a few guys that have a history, you have an advantage.

"On the East team, we had a lot of guys from USA Basketball," Chauncey Billups, the fourth Eastern Conference star from this summer's FIBA America's winning squad, said. "That chemistry from playing with each other really helped us tonight."

"We got very familiar this summer," Billups continued, "playing in training camps together and also in games. Those three guys started, so they pretty much set the tone all summer, and they did the same today. They just picked it right up"

James and Howard connected on a couple of sharp pick-and-rolls early, and when Kidd has LeBron running next to him on the break, you'd best get out of the way.

Billups didn't put up big numbers, but he had a key sequence midway through the first quarter when the East had missed six straight shots and had gone more than two and a half minutes without scoring (which is like going scoreless for a whole quarter in a regular season game). Mr. Big Shot hit a jumper to end the drought, took a feed from Rip Hamilton for a layup two possessions later, and then picked up a pair of assists in the next minute.

But the best sequence in recent All-Star memory took place midway through the second quarter. First, Kidd put up a touch-pass lob for James, who put it back up in front of the rim (video) for a thunderous Howard jam, the play of the night. Two possessions later, James tried again to hit Howard with a lob, but it was a bit off, so the big man sent it back and James threw it down. The next time down the floor, James connected with Howard for one more alley-oop throwdown.

In the first half, four of Howard's five field goals were assisted by James and two of James' five field goals were assisted by Kidd. That's chemistry.

"By us playing together with USA Basketball," Howard said afterward, "we had a lot of fun; we learned each other's games.

In the end, they needed help from Ray Allen to put the West away, but the USA three, especially LeBron, made big plays down the stretch as well.

And even though they lost, the Team USA chemistry can be looked at as a silver lining for a few of the defeated West stars. Carmelo Anthony, Team USA's leading scorer, noticed it.

"[Kidd] was throwing passes to LeBron," said Anthony, who also pointed out that Dwyane Wade is another Eastern Conference Team USA guy (who didn't participate this summer because of his shoulder and knee injuries). "[Kidd] was throwing passes to Dwight. Dwight was throwing passes to LeBron and vice-versa. Anytime you can get Jason Kidd out there on the court, something special is gonna happen."

With Kidd likely to be dealt out West in the very near future (like Monday), these three stars may never play together again in an NBA setting. But we can look forward to more of the same chemistry, and more wins, this summer in Beijing. Anthony knows that coming together here for the All-Star Game can spark anticipation for just that.

"I'm pretty sure they were over there talking about looking forward to this summer playing with each other," he said.

The rest of us are looking forward to it too.