Kobe set to take center stage in first ASG outside U.S.


Of all the goodies Kobe Bryant collects in his farewell season, one this weekend might be particularly useful.

After all, you need a good winter coat in Canada. Though Bryant probably wouldn’t be too unhappy walking away with another All-Star Game MVP trophy.

The final NBA showcase for Bryant and the first to be staged outside the U.S. is in Toronto, the city that staged the first NBA game 70 years ago and is so enthusiastic for basketball now that it could no longer be ignored no matter what the thermometer says.

“I think it’s going to be bonkers,” former Raptors superstar Vince Carter said.

“I think it’s overdue. It’s a great city. I think they’ll be a great host and I think guys are going to have a lot of fun. It’s going to be cold.”

Frigid, actually.

A relatively mild winter by Canada’s standards will be nothing but a warm memory this weekend, when Saturday’s forecast is for temperatures below zero degrees which will feel even colder with the wind chill. The players can cover up with the parkas Canada Goose, maker of cold weather outerwear, designed for them.

The NBA long sought warm-weather locations for its winter road trip, and cities that had a good chance for a white Christmas generally had little hope of getting All-Star weekend.

But Toronto, where the Toronto Huskies and New York Knicks played on Nov. 1, 1946, in Maple Leaf Gardens and is so passionate about its Raptors that general manager Masai Ujiri was fined a couple years ago for using an expletive about playoff opponent Brooklyn — with commissioner Adam Silver in attendance — is “an ideal host,” Silver said.

“There is a special energy and excitement around All-Star this year, and we’re looking forward to four days of great events that honor our marquee players and legends, celebrate the game, and provide loads of excitement for our fans,” Silver said.

If Bryant heats up, he could add a fifth All-Star Game MVP award to his collection.

Bryant is the All-Star Game’s career scoring leader — though now just two points ahead of LeBron James.

Does the 18-time All-Star’s aching body have enough left at 37 for one more vintage performance?

“Knowing Kobe as well as I do, I’m sure if he gets going, and the guys get him going, you know the crowd’s going to want it to happen; certain players are going to want it to happen,” former teammate Shaquille O’Neal said in remarks provided by TNT.

“If he can find his stroke and get it going a little bit, I can guarantee you he’s going to go for the MVP. It’s his last one. Why not go out with a bang?”

Booker to replace Noel


Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker has replaced injured Philadelphia player Nerlens Noel on the U.S. team roster in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night.

The NBA announced the move Thursday.

Booker, the 19-year-old former Kentucky guard drafted 13th overall last year, is averaging 10.6 points and shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range in 48 games. In 23 starts, he’s averaging 15.2 points, and had a season-high 32 points against Indiana on Jan. 19.

Booker also will compete in the Three-Point Contest on Saturday.

Noel has tendinitis in his right knee.