James, Anthony work well together in Rookie Challenge

Pair teams up, entertains crowd in 142-118 loss

Pro Basketball

February 14, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- The basketball world won't entirely get what it wants this weekend as the NBA's All-Stars gather, since LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will not be playing with the big boys tomorrow night.

But James and Anthony did the kids table proud in last night's Rookie Challenge, teaming up for the first time on the professional stage.

"You know, it was great to be out there with a good friend," said James of his pairing with Towson Catholic's Anthony on the team of first-year players. "We work out, we have worked out in the summertime before, and I know a lot of his stuff and he knows a lot of mine. So I know where he is going to be and he knows where I'm going to be and that's why were able to hook up so good."

It wasn't always so smooth. Anthony failed to connect at least three times with James on alley-oop dunks. But the one that worked was magic as Miami guard Dwyane Wade threw a long inbounds pass to a streaking Anthony, who tossed the ball to the basket with a left-handed scoop, which James caught and thundered down with about three minutes left.

Still, in a game whose outcome -- a 142-118 sophomores win -- was as important as a professional wrestling match, what the Staples Center sellout crowd of 19,662 wanted to see was if the highly hyped pair could work together, after being thrust into the national spotlight.

"It was just fun to be on the court with him and the other rookies," said Anthony, who had 17. "At the end of the game, somebody said to me, it looked like your chemistry is like you've been playing for a long time. When we get out there, we know each other's games and what we are going to do on the court."

There hasn't been a moment since James declared that he would skip college to come to the NBA out of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, or since Anthony led Syracuse to the NCAA title last April, then announced that he would give up the final three years of his eligibility that the two names haven't been spoken together.

They are the two leading rookie scorers in the NBA, with James leading Anthony by a point. And they have each led their respective teams to more wins than either team had last season.

The two were thought to be locks to be added to the rosters for tomorrow's All-Star Game, when neither was voted in by the fans. But neither was chosen by the respective Eastern or Western coaches as reserves, making last night's game -- their first pairing -- must-see basketball.

"It was just great just playing with him," said James. "You only get that once in a lifetime. I guess we'll be playing next year in the rookie-sophomore game. Hopefully, we'll be playing against each other in the Sunday game."

As former Laker A.C. Green, an assistant coach with the rookie team described it, the two teams played "virtual reality defense," combining to score 260 points.

"It was about entertaining the fans, and I thought you got a good idea that these young men could play at a very high level," said sophomore coach Michael Cooper, a former Laker defensive stalwart. "There was really no defense played [last night] because that was by design. Coach [Doug] Collins and myself, we wanted to see who could score the most points. I was amazed that very, very little defense was played."

How little? With about 6:30 left in the first half, Chicago point guard Kirk Hinrich tossed an underhanded scoop pass at the basket from about 28 feet away. James went up into the air high above the rim, and cuffed the ball through with one hand, pausing for poise and recognition upon landing.

James, who finished with 33 points, saved his best for later, coming up the Staples Center floor, tossing the ball lightly off the glass, then going up to slam it down with one hand.

Indeed, the final two minutes of the game collapsed into a glorified dunk contest.

But with all the pyrotechnics the rookies could muster, it was the sophomores who used a balanced attack led by last year's Rookie of the Year, Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire, who won game Most Valuable Player honors with 36 points and 11 rebounds.

Jarvis Hayes, the Washington rookie forward, who was the only Wizards player to participate in the entire All-Star weekend festivities, sprained his right ankle late in the first half. X-rays on Hayes were negative.

NBA All-Star Game

Site: Staples Center, Los Angeles

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

TV: TNT

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