By TIM REYNOLDS
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — LeBron James was trading lob passes with Dwyane Wade again, one last time. Catching lobs from former teammate Kyrie Irving once again, too. And after making a stepback 3-pointer late, he stared down Joel Embiid to send a message without saying a word.
Oh, this mattered to James — and Team LeBron as well.
Team LeBron, down by 20 in the second half, finally got firing and went on to beat Team Giannis 178-164 in the All-Star Game on Sunday night. MVP Kevin Durant scored 31 points for Team LeBron, the one that James drafted and led to victory in the captain’s-choice format for a second consecutive season.
“You put me on the floor, I love to compete,” James said in the postgame interview room. “I’m a competitor, no matter what it is. I was competing to see if I could get to this table first.”
He wasn’t kidding. He then turned to NBA spokesman Mark Broussard, asked if he was the first player to get into the room and grinned when told he was.
“See what I’m talking about?” James said.
Klay Thompson scored 20 points, and James and Kawhi Leonard each had 19 for the winners.
“It’s all sweet to me,” Durant said after getting his second All-Star MVP award, to go with the one he claimed in 2012. “It’s hard to rank because everything’s special. But it’s cool to be out there with some of the best players to ever play the game. And to win MVP in front of my family and friends is pretty sweet.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo — the first-time captain — led everybody with 38 points on 17 for 23 shooting for the club he drafted. Paul George and Khris Middleton each scored 20 points for Team Giannis, which got 17 apiece from Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook.
“Just being the leader of a team, it wasn’t as tough as I thought,” Antetokounmpo said. “My teammates, the guys in the locker room, encouraged me to step up and take it serious and play hard.”
The highlights, as would be expected, were absurdly good, time and again.
Curry slammed the ball off the floor on a first-half fas