Kevin Durant wins 2012 All-Star MVP, West beats East 152-149

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The 2012 NBA All-Star game started off as a blowout, but ended up being competitive to the final possession. Kevin Durant and LeBron James tied for the game-high in scoring with 36 points each, but Durant got the MVP nod as his West squad held on to win in exciting fashion, 152-149.

Durant started off hot with 13 first-quarter points, with his Thunder head coach Scott Brooks playing him the entire period as he does in his regular rotation in games that count. He had 21 by halftime and 34 after three, and finished 14-of-25 from the field with seven rebounds and three assists.

“It’s just exciting to be named to All-Star, but to step it up to another level and become MVP, it’s only something that as a kid you dream about,” Durant said afterward.

Durant played a game-high 17 minutes, which he said he knew was coming, as he and his coach had been discussing it for the past couple of weeks. He knew early on he had a shot at the trophy.

“After the first quarter,” Durant said, when asked when he thought the MVP might be within reach. “You know, I had a rhythm going. Guys were feeding me. I hit a few shots, and I was being aggressive. We had a good lead, as well. I had an idea that I can get the award, but with so many great players on the floor, you never know what can happen. But I’m glad I’m taking it home.”

Durant was deserving of the MVP, but he was quiet in the fourth quarter with just two points on two shots. Maybe that’s why the East was able to close the gap.

The West led by 19 points at halftime, and set an All-Star game record for most points in the process. Things changed in the third quarter, and Dwyane Wade let it be known that the East was going to compete. He took an unusually hard foul on Kobe Bryant, smacking Bryant in the nose and actually drawing blood — something which may have been a first in the mid-season exhibition.

“I obviously didn’t try to draw no blood, but I took a foul,” Wade said afterward. “Kobe fouled me two times in a row, so he’s still got one up on me. But I’m glad that everything was cool and we got back to being competitive and having fun.”

Most of the rest of the game from that point was fun only for the East, and especially Wade’s Miami Heat teammate, LeBron James. While Wade finished with a rare All-Star game triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, James got hot from three-point distance, knocking down five out of six from downtown in the second half to bring the East roaring all the way back to within two points with 16.3 seconds remaining.

Deron Williams had a shot to win it, popping out to the three-point line for a clean look that just didn’t fall. The East had one more chance after Williams secured his own rebound, but James turned it over, trying to find a teammate in the paint while Kobe Bryant was defending. He said afterward that Bryant gave him a hard time for not stepping up to take that final shot.

“Yeah, he was telling me to shoot it,” James said. “I seen my teammate open for a split second, I told him I seen him open the first time and I didn’t release the ball. When I tried to throw it late, that’s what usually happens and it results in a turnover. Definitely wish I could have that one back.”

Bryant started off the game by making his first four shots, and finished by doing what he does: forcing tough, contested fadeaway jump shots with defenders in his face and the game on the line. Bryant finished second to Durant on his team in scoring with 27 points, and with a breakaway two-handed slam dunk in the third, passed Michael Jordan in the record books to become the All-Star game’s all-time leading scorer.

The game featured its fair share of sensational plays from just about everyone who was interested — Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and several others. Noticeably absent from the highlight reel was Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who appeared disinterested and was going at it in a lower gear than everyone else for most of the night. (Need proof? Look no further than his zero-of-four shooting … from three-point land.)

Overall, the game delivered. The exciting plays were there, as were the intensity and competition the players displayed in taking the outcome down to the night’s final possession.

And there was Kevin Durant, taking home his first All-Star game MVP.

“I keep saying it, but I’m excited I got it, and I’m glad I get to celebrate this with my family and my teammates and everyone in Oklahoma City,” he said. “We’ll see if I get another one down the line.”

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.