PHOENIX (AP) -At least the East still has the reigning NBA champion Boston Celtics.
That was the only solace the Eastern Conference stars could take after a 146-119 drubbing by the West in the All-Star Game on Sunday night. Even though it's only an exhibition, the result reinforced the perception that the West is a stronger conference overall - except in the eyes of the East players.
``This game doesn't matter when it comes to that,'' Miami's Dwyane Wade said. ``What matters at the end of the day is who wins the championship. Is it going to be West or is it going to be East?
``It goes back and forth,'' Wade said. ``They have strong teams, no question. We all know that. But our strong teams in the East are strong, and can compete with anybody.''
a 19-0 run in the first quarter, and the East never led again.
``We started out of the gates very well when we had the first five out there,'' East coach Mike Brown said.
Brown didn't ride his starters - Cleveland's LeBron James, Boston's Kevin Garnett, Orlando's Dwight Howard, Detroit's Allen Iverson and Wade - for very long. He wanted to spread the minutes around, and none of his first-teamers played more than 28 minutes.
``My goal going into it was trying to get the guys as equal minutes as possible,'' Brown said. ``And at the end of the day, you hope the results are a win, but you want everybody to play a nice chunk of minutes.''
James led the East with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the floor. Wade had 18 points and five assists and Paul Pierce added 18 points off the bench.
The East stars essentially served as props for the reunion of former Lakers teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, who were named co-MVPs.
The East had won three of the last four All-Star games, and it leads the all-time series 35-23. But the East had no answer for West big men O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire, and at times they looked like freshmen playing against the varsity.
The East's only true center was 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard of Orlando.
th Shaquille O'Neal,'' said Howard, who had 13 points and nine rebounds.
The West used its size to pile up a 51-38 advantage on the backboards. Brown might have been tempted to send in legendary former Boston center Bill Russell, who watched from a seat near the East bench. Brown certainly could have used 6-foot-10 Chris Bosh of Toronto, who was picked for the team but had to sit out with a knee injury.
``Their size advantage, anybody and everybody could tell was a big factor,'' Brown said.
The East could have erased that advantage if it had shot better. But the East made only 8-of-34 shots (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
Former Suns guard Joe Johnson, now with the Hawks, went 0-for-3 from beyond the arc in his return to Phoenix and Boston's Ray Allen also missed all three of his 3-point tries.
When its 3-pointers wouldn't fall, the East struggled to penetrate the West's defense.
``I think on defense they played a zone, so we couldn't get to the rack,'' Howard said. ``It was tough for us to get into the paint. It seemed like they had Shaq, Yao and Amare and Tim (Duncan) and everybody in the paint loaded up.''

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