LeBron and Shaq will start for the East in the 9 p.m. tip-off.
DENVER (AP) -- A mile above sea level, just a little to the left of America's midsection, the NBA All-Star game has arrived lacking a clear-cut theme.
It will be LeBron James' first appearance and Shaquille O'Neal's 12th in the league's showcase event, and in between those two on the frequency meter are 22 other well-deserving players of various shapes and sizes -- though there's nary a Nugget to represent the host team, and no compelling story line to reel in the casual fan.
"Whoa, I have no idea. Better ask someone else," Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons said when asked to come up with a motif for this year's game.
"I can't come up with something. I don't know," offered Tracy McGrady of the Rockets.
"Kobe against Shaq," opined Yao Ming, who might have forgotten that the feuding ex-teammates already had their first official on-court clash back on Christmas Day.
Shaq goes against Yao
"How about Yao vs. Shaq?" Yao was asked in return. After all, those two were teamed on the Western Conference squad the past two years before O'Neal was traded last summer to Miami. This time, O'Neal will be starting for the East and jumping center against Yao when the opening tip goes up shortly before 9 p.m.
"I won't be using all six of my fouls against him," Yao predicted.
This will be the league's 54th All-Star game and the first time in 21 years it's being held in Denver. It comes during a somewhat troubled year, the defining moment of the current season coming on the third Friday of November when Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson of the Pacers charged into the stands and pummeled Pistons fans as a wild brawl broke out in the final minute of an Indiana-Detroit game.
Two playing tonight
Two of the principal figures from that troubling night, Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal and Detroit's Wallace, will be teammates on an East squad that will try to break the conference's three-game All-Star losing streak.
Both Jermaine O'Neal and Wallace already have served suspensions stemming from the melee, but both can certainly count on the topic being brought up ad nauseam over the course of the three-day All-Star weekend.
"There are a lot of positive things going on in this league. People want to take the negative things to write about," Jermaine O'Neal said last week. "We have good players in this league. We have players that take care of kids who need things in the community, that take care of families that need things, but you don't see that written."
The NBA is doing what it can to try to steer the focus away from the negative, and there's no shortage of feel-good events -- including the Read-to-Achieve Caravan, a Jr. NBA/WNBA Basketball and Books clinic, several hospital visits and the hugely popular Jam Session -- taking place throughout the week.
Seven first-time stars
This year's game will feature seven first-time All-Stars, including James, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, Seattle's Rashard Lewis, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison of Washington, Amare Stoudemire of Phoenix and Miami's Dwyane Wade.