From February 15 to 17, the NBA will descend upon Houston for its annual All-Star Game. With only a month left until the event, the participants at the weekend's various events are beginning to come into focus. On Thursday night, the NBA revealed the stars of the show: the All-Star Game starters, as voted by the league's many fans around the world.
For the third time in his career, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant was the leading vote-getter overall. With 1,591,437 votes, Kobe beat out Miami Heat superstar LeBron James by fewer than 8,000 votes to become the winner of the NBA's ultimate popularity contest. While virtually all analysts would agree that James is the superior player, Bryant is having one of his best offensive seasons in years, leading the NBA in scoring at 29.9 points per game. In 17 seasons, Kobe has now made 15 All-Star teams (and would almost certainly have 16 appearances if they'd played the game during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season).
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After the jump, check out the rest of the starters, as well as some thoughts on whether or not they deserve the honor.
Bryant is joined in the Western Conference backcourt by crosstown rival Chris Paul (six appearances) of the Los Angeles Clippers. His teammate Blake Griffin (three appearances), the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (four appearances), and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (seven appearances) comprise the frontcourt. There was some thought that Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin could beat out Paul on the strength of very strong international support and a push from Houston fans, but he fell 45,346 votes short of winning a spot.
LeBron (nine appearances) is joined in the East frontcourt by Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks (six appearances) and Boston Celtics big man Kevin Garnett (15 appearances), who failed to make the East squad in 2012. (Oh, and for those wondering, Anthony and Garnett claim to have squashed any lingering disagreements after their feud last Monday). The East backcourt consists of Garnett's teammate Rajon Rondo (four appearances) and Heat mainstay Dwyane Wade (nine appearances).
This season's voting marks the first time that fans have been asked to vote for three frontcourt players instead of two forwards and one center, but the voting generally stuck to the positional breakdown of the past. There's some room for argument on Garnett, who now plays a position similar to center despite being listed as a forward for his entire career. If we're honest, though, each conference will be represented by two guards, two forwards, and a center.
All things considered, the fans did a pretty good job selecting deserving players for these spots. In the East, Garnett could have been replaced by Knicks center Tyson Chandler (a frontrunner to win Defensive Player of the Year) or Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (averaging 18.6 ppg and 7.4 rpg). In the West, it seems a little peculiar that the Lakers have two starters and sit at 11th in the conference standings, but Howard has put up solid numbers at 17.8 ppg and 12.6 rpg. The argument against his inclusion rests at the defensive end, where Howard has been nowhere near the All-Universe defender he was during his best seasons with the Orlando Magic. Given those struggles, venerable San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan, currently having a great all-around season for the third-best team in the West, may have been the better fit.
But All-Star voting is about the players whom fans want to see, and in that sense they did a good job of picking these starters. No matter how you argue it, these 10 players are among the most watchable and fascinating athletes in the NBA. They're worth our attention, and they'll get exactly that in Houston.
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