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| Feb. 18, 2006

2006 NBA All-Star Weekend is going on Feb. 17-19 in Houston, Texas. Here's what various key NBA All-Stars from the East team said to the media on Friday:

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, Detroit Pistons

Q: When did it really hit you that you were an All-Star?

Billups: Our last game was Tuesday, so I had a couple of days to kind of soak it in and not worry about any other games. Thatís when it really hit me that I made it. Iím an All-Star. Itís still a little surreal right now. Itís something that Iíve always wanted. Itís unbelievable being in the company of these guys.

Q: Do you think it was good for Darko Milicic to get traded?

Billups: I think it was a great trade for Darko. I really do. Heís worked really hard the last couple of years. He hasnít gotten a real opportunity because there were so many great players at his position. Like Iíve been telling him, when they page you, youíd better be ready to pick up and answer. Right now, heís going to get that page. Theyíre going to tell him that itís time for you to do what you can do. I think itís an unbelievable opportunity for him Ė new city, new coach, new everything. I think thatís really what he needed.

Q: Can Darko play?

Billups: Darkoís really talented. Thereís not much that he canít do. He can shoot the ball. He can block shots. He can rebound. Heís tough. He can put the ball on the floor. He can pass. He can do it all. I think Iíve been a little frustrated with him at times because heís looked a little disinterested, but I think that had a lot to do with his frustration with Larry [Brown] before and even this year not playing many minutes.

Q: Are you comfortable with the backup point guard situation now?

Billups: Of course, Iím going to miss Carlos [Arroyo]. He was a great guard for our team on and off the court. Lindsey [Hunter]ís getting back healthy now, and we also have a lineup where we can play with Tay[shaun Prince] at guardÖ Iím definitely comfortable with where weíre at, but Iíll miss Carlos.

Q: Do you feel like your team, which had no All-Stars last year, has gotten more respect with four of you on this yearís team?

Billups: Absolutely. It is going to be new for us, because weíve always kind of flown under the radar a little bit. Weíve snuck up on people, and we wonít be sneaking up on people anymore, which is fine. You have to have your guard up at the start of the game as opposed to sneaking up and winning later in the game. The perception of us has definitely changed.

_______________________________

VINCE CARTER, New Jersey Nets

Q: Is this still something that is good to be a part of?

Carter: Oh definitely, it's a great thing to be a part of for many reasons. I've been voted in by the fans for years and years and this year I get to do it a different way to get voted in by the coaches. That makes me feel good. It makes me think the coaches appreciate what I bring to the table night in and night out this past year.

Q: Are you concerned about Tracy McGrady? (T-Mac is going through personal problems)

Carter: I don't' want to talk about it. That's personal and it's his issues. I'm there for him. I'm here to listen whenever he wants to talk about it.

Q: What do you think about the field in the slam-dunk contest this year?

Carter: It's an interesting field. We all know what Josh Smith can do. Hakim Warrick, I don't know that well. Nate Robinson, we played them during the preseason, so I got to see him do some things. (Andre) Iguodala has some rockets in is feet so it should be an interesting competition. I think Nate Robinson can shock the world because of his height and some of the things he can do. I don't know if many people have seen some things he can do, but if he can make his dunks, he can make his way to the final.

Q: Are you satisfied with your career so far?

Carter: Never satisfied. I wouldn't change it for the world, but I just want to continue to improve on what I do. There's nothing I would change in my game, that's the way I play.

Q: What NBA player comes to mind when I say the word confidence?

Carter: Allen Iverson. It's simple. He's confident in the way he plays on the court and he knows he is one of the most dominant players in the league.

_______________________________

RICHARD HAMILTON, Detroit Pistons Q: Can you talk about the relationship youíve been able to maintain with Michael Jordan after he traded you from Washington?

Hamilton: Itís great because at first it was hard. When the greatest player of the game trades you, your idolÖ it was tough. It took me about a year to get over it to be honest. But I got over it and I knew and understood that it was just business. When I speak to him now, heís always willing to help me in any way, on and off the basketball court. Itís great when you have the greatest player to ever play the game giving you tips.

Q: What does Kobe Bryantís 81 point game mean to the players around the league? Is it good for the league?

Hamilton: Eighty-one is 81. Eighty-one is a lot of points. When I was home and someone called me and said he got 70 in the fourth quarter and still time left on the clock, I was like ďGive him the ball, let him get 80.Ē

Q: Do you think he could have scored that many points against you?

Hamilton: No I donít think so. Thatís a lot of points. I donít think so.

_______________________________

ALLEN IVERSON, Philadelphia 76ers

Q. What do you remember about your first All-Star Game?

Iverson: I remember being so nervous. You always think about just being a kid, and always wanting to be an All-Star, and then youíre so nervous when it finally happens because you want to do well, and you donít want to make mistakes.

Q. Looking around the league this year, who do you feel are the MVP candidates?

Iverson: Kobe is playing great. But itís a team game. And you always have to look at how successful a team is, and Steve Nash is at the top of that list. With Amare being out as long as he has, Steve has been able to keep that team where they are Ė if I had a vote right now, it would be for Steve Nash. But Kobe is playing great and he is having one of the greatest seasons heís had since heís been in the league.

Q. With your great career with Philadelphia, the scoring titles, the All-Star appearances, how disappointing would it be if the 76ers didnít get back to the Finals like you did in 2001?

Iverson: It would be disappointing because thatís what I want. I want to win a ring. I want to have the opportunity to get back to the Finals, but I just have to take it one day at a time, and understand that it can happen Ė and I always believe that. Once I stop believing the goal can be accomplished, there is no need to keep dressing up every night. All that matters is us getting into the playoffs, because then, anything can happen.

_______________________________

LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers

Q: Do you think you could ever score 81 points in a game?

James: Thatís not my game. I like to do everything, not just shoot the ball and score. I couldnít see myself scoring that many points in a game.

Q: Talk about the skills challenge and how competitive it has become.

James: Itís very competitive. Thatís what this league is. Guys can do a lot of different things and not just shoot the ball. Guys can do it all and the skills challenge really emphasizes that.

Q: Do you have a strategy?

James: You canít really prepare for a contest like this. You just have to go out and wing it, and hopefully you get a good time. Itís a disadvantage, being the tallest and heaviest guy in the field, going against guys like Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, these are smaller guys than I am, but I just have maintain focus.

Q: How tough is it to crack the All-Star roster with so many great players in the league?

James: Itís difficult, but I donít think guys go out every night and say, ďWell, Iím going to go out and play this game to make the All-Star team.Ē You just go out and play your game and the rest takes care of itself.

Q: What are your overall expectations for the weekend?

James: Iím going to have fun. Iím going to showcase a lot of my talents. Going to see what I can do in the Skills Challenge, then hopefully go out and get a win on Sunday.

_______________________________

JERMAINE O'NEAL, Indiana Pacers

Q: How much have things changed with Ron Artest gone?

O'Neal: I think itís changed for the better. Not necessarily because Ron was a bad person for the team, but there was so much talk about him being traded. And it took so long that people thought they were going to be traded along with him. A lot of guys own homes in Indiana and guys didnít want to leave and the fact of the matter is when you hear all the trade talk and rumors about Ron being traded for an elite player. And people start putting it together, and say Ďyou have to package a couple of people to get that playerí and that really what worried our team.

Q: Do you think that down the road will say Ďwhat ifí about these two last two seasons?

O'Neal: No. I look at it like this; itís not in our cards if it doesnít happen. I never say Ďwhat if?í You look at it like a golden opportunity missed, but you just have to move on and get better. I think that is really where weíre at. Weíve been through a lot in the previous two years, and a lot of things happened. And a lot of things happen to you in life in general, but you canít look at it and say Ďwhat if this would have happened?í Because ďwhat ifí doesnít really do anything for you. We have to make sure weíre focused. We have to make sure we start playing good basketball. Thatís the key point for us now. Make sure weíre playing really good basketball both ends of the floor come April and I really think we can make things happen.

Q: Who is the most talented player in the game? If you needed somebody to win a game, who would you go with?

O'Neal: If I had to pick one guy to win a game it would be Kobe.

Q: And if you could choose one guy to play with?

O'Neal: Steve Nash.

_______________________________

SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, Miami Heat

Q: How do you think Yao Ming likes playing against you?

O'Neal: Yaoís a great center. Whenever you want to become the best you have to go up against the best. I guess going against me is one of his biggest challenges, along with Mr. Duncan in his conference. Heís a great competitor who wants to go up against another great competitor.

Q: Why do you think individual players are having all these 40-plus point games this season?

O'Neal: A lot of shooting. Itís probably a mixture of everything Ė the hand-check rules, guys hitting shots Ö I think guys are getting a lot more freedom with the ball. Iím sure that all those guys scoring all those points are guys that always have the ball. When guys always have the ball and are given the green light to do what they want to do, theyíre going to shoot 20 times, shoot 40 times, shoot 50 times Ö Itís a great feeling.

Q: How do you feel about the Heatís chances after the All-Star break?

O'Neal: We have 30 games left, and we just have to play together. Lately, weíve been looking pretty good, so we just have to maintain that.

Q: What was your reaction to Kobe Bryantís 81-point game?

O'Neal: He played a fantastic game. I actually saw it. He shot the ball well, and he was feeling it. Whenever a player is feeling it, he should go for it. It was a fantastic, historical performance.

Q: Do these All-Star Games ever get old to you?

O'Neal: No. Itís an honor that the people still vote me in as a starter. Thereís a lot of great young guys in my conference. Dwight Howard, Jermaine OíNeal Ö Itís still a great honor.

Q: Is it just as fun this time around as the first time was?

O'Neal: I know what to do this time around. Iíve been coming to these a long time, so I know where to go, what to do and what not to do.

_______________________________

PAUL PIERCE, Boston Celtics

Q: Who is your pick in the Slam Dunk Contest?

Pierce: I think Josh Smith is going to win.

_______________________________

DWYANE WADE, Miami Heat

Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Wade: Winning. Iím most proud of being on a winning team every year. Being in the playoffs. Being known as a winner in my short career so far. And having the opportunity to come to events like this. When it comes to the individual, when you go to the All-Star Game, it shows what people think about you. Not only the coaches but the fans also. So those are my greatest achievement so far.

Q: Can you talk about being on the All-Star team this year versus last year?

Wade: Itís a little better this year. Last year I was a little nervous and didnít know what to expect. This year I know what to expect but itís still new. Iím starting for my first time and I have a year under my belt so I feel more and more confident and Iím just happy to be here once again.

_______________________________

BEN WALLACE, Detroit Pistons

Q: After the deal, how do you think Darko Milicic will fare in Orlando?

Wallace: This is like a ďGet Out of Jail FreeĒ card for Darko. Itís going to be a fresh start for him. Now itís going to be up to him whether he wants to come out and take advantage of his opportunity. There are no more All-Stars playing in front of him. Itís an open game. I know Darko, I know heíll be ready to go out there and be ready to play and to prove himself and let everybody in this league know that he can play.

Q: You have seen Darko in practice. Can he play?

Wallace: Darko definitely has some talent; the thing that he didnít show in Detroit was the passion for the game to want to go out there and want to dominate the game. But he can definitely play the game, he knows the game, heís a smart player, he works hard on his game, on his body and itís a matter of him going out there and showing everybody.

_______________________________

RASHEED WALLACE, Detroit Pistons

Q: What was it like getting on the plane to come here and being with three teammates and a coach?

Wallace: It beats flying commercial. I didnít have to worry about my bags being lost. That was a real place.

Q: I see youíre wearing your championship ring. Is that a reminder for you, or motivation for another one?

Wallace: Actually, itís both of those things, plus, I donít really have any fancy jewelry, so this is my ice.

Q: Youíve said in the past that the All-Star experience wasnít something you really enjoyed. Have you warmed up to it?

Wallace: Iím happy for Chauncey (Billups), Iím happy for Rip (Hamilton). Iím happy for the organization. Itís great recognition for what our team has done. But, I would almost rather have that personal time with my wife and kids, being somewhere else, because we know itís going to be a circus here this weekend. But, like I said, Iím happy for my teammates and Iím happy for the organization.

Q: There seemed to be a lot of mutual respect during last yearís Finals between your team and the Spurs. Is it nice to be a part of something like that?

Wallace: If you have that respect from both sides of the fence, it will make for a better game than me saying stuff in the paper like, ĎI hate Tim Duncan. When I see him on the court Iím going to bust his chops.í It makes for a better game when you respect your opponent.

Q: Do you guys want San Antonio to be there at the end, to make up for last year?

Wallace: Well, first we have to be there. Iím just concerned about what goes on in our locker room. We have a couple of tough teams here in the East. We need to take care of our business on this side of the league, before we think about a rematch in the Finals. It would be fun to play them again and take back what they took from us last year.



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