NBA: Heat, Thunder storm into All-Star break

Knicks breakout star Jeremy Lin has grabbed the headlines lately, but it's the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder topping the standings as the hectic NBA season reaches its All-Star break.

Just two months after the lockout-shortened season tipped off on Christmas Day, the annual mid-season showcase will give the NBA another chance to charm fans turned off by the labor dispute that shuttered the league.

The three days of exhibition festivities -- starting on Friday with the Rising Stars Game for rookies and second-year players -- are also a chance for ailing, aching and just plain tired players to catch their breath.

Lakers center Andrew Bynum could barely muster any enthusiasm for his first All-Star appearance on Sunday after Los Angeles were flattened by the Thunder on Thursday night.

"I'm just looking forward to the rest," Bynum said.

The Lakers and their cross-town rival Clippers dominate the Western Conference starting lineups in Sunday's All-Star Game, each with two starters.

Along with Bynum, Lakers superstar guard Kobe Bryant was voted in by fans, who also picked high-flying Clippers forward Blake Griffin and guard Chris Paul.

The only non-Los Angeles starter is Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

Miami forward LeBron James and guard Dwyane Wade was to be joined on the Eastern Conference team by Orlando's Dwight Howard, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Chicago guard Derrick Rose, although Rose, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, has been battling a sore back and other injuries this season.

The reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks feature only among the reserves in the West, not surprising after the early season struggles of Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs' modest 21-13 record at the break.

Meanwhile the team the Mavericks beat in the finals -- Miami -- are cruising, with coach Erik Spoelstra saying the shortened season may have done them a favor.

"In one regard, the schedule has helped us," Spoelstra said. "It's given us an absolute sense of urgency. Every film session, every shootaround, every game, we're trying to reach another level. We don't necessarily want to put a ceiling on what's happening now."

Spoelstra also scoffed at the notion his team was peaking too soon.

"All the great teams have had multiple runs during the season where now people say, 'Are you peaking? Is it too early to peak?'" Spoelstra said. "That's garbage."


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