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SportsMonday: LeBron Chokes, Kobe Bleeds And Kevin Durant Is MVP

There is still a ton of basketball to be played. Make that 10 tons. But it is already clear that this NBA season will come down to one thing and one thing only:

Can LeBron make clutch plays?

Even the All-Star Game came down to that; Mr. James' ill-advised, last-second, cross-court pass was intercepted by Blake Griffin.

The key with the NBA's mid-season showcase is to find a way to tune in about midway through the third quarter. That is when, at least of late, things tend to heat up.

Of course, the only reason this All-Star game became interesting at all was Kobe Bryant.

Say what you will about the man - and I have never been a fan - but competitiveness burns in him almost as hot as it did in Jordan, and in my book that is the ultimate compliment.

Now, maybe Kobe was focused in this game in part because he had the chance to become the all-time All-Star scorer (sure enough, he passed Michael Jordan's mark of 262 total points with this dunk in the third quarter).

But that didn't have anything to do with him D'ing up on Dwyane Wade on a couple consecutive possessions not long after halftime, causing Wade to take offense.

Soon thereafter, Wade returned the favor, delivering a hard foul on Kobe that actually drew blood (a bloody nose at an All-Star game - will wonders never cease?) and it was on.

The East eventually rallied from what was at one point an 18-point deficit to have a shot at the lead in the game's final 10 seconds. But with his team trailing 151-149, former Illini Deron Williams' wide open three was way off.

Then the East somehow tracked down the rebound and there was LeBron with the ball as the clock ticked under 0:05.

Mr. "I'm taking my talents to South Beach" played a big role in the rally. He hit an other-worldly six of eight three-pointers. But of course it was the three-point shot he didn't take as the final second ticked away that was everyone's takeaway from this one.

Instead LeBron tried that ill-advised pass. And all fans were thinking was he still just can't quite get it done when a close, high-profile game is on the line. It happened in the NBA Finals last year against eventual champion Dallas. It happened during a big-time game with the Bulls earlier this season. (Miami still won that game because our guys couldn't quite take advantage of James' missteps.)

Then again, James did choreograph a delightful pregame dance with Orlando's Dwight Howard. And they're very good at funny commercials. The jury's still out on whether they have what it takes to win a championship.

The Heat was the best team in the league in the first half of this lockout-shortened season, no doubt about it. In the last few weeks the team from Miami went on a run in which it won eight straight games by double digits.

But no one will know anything about this team and its star until what seems like an almost certain Eastern Conference match-up with the Bulls. One thing that was even more clear at the end of the first half of the NBA season was that the Bulls and the Heat are clearly the class of the East.

At this point, Oklahoma City is the clear favorite in the West. And Kevin Durant - not LeBron or Kobe - was awarded the MVP on Sunday.

Another basketball drama coming up later this year will be the Olympics, and while the international competition will be fascinating, the intranational drama on Team USA may be even more so.

Who among the roster that is sure to include James, Wade, Kobe and Derrick Rose, will take the big shots at the end of games? Durant was the one who hit all the big shots at the World Championships last year, when Team USA clinched its spot in the Olympic tournament. But none of those other guys were on that team.

One thing is certain. If Durant wants to take a shot at the end of a big international game, James will pass it to him.

Bulls All-Star Report
* Injured Luol Deng Risks Fine For Africa T-Shirt In All-Star Game

* Rose Scores 14 Points

* Benny The Bull Terrorizes All-Star Game

* Under Tom Thibodeau's Watch, Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade Rack Up All-Star Minutes

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ESPN's All-Star Game Highlights

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Comments welcome.

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