On February 20th of this year, the NBA All-Star Game will return to the big stage in Los Angeles, California. The event was last held at Staples Center in 2004, when then hometown hero Shaquille O’Neal took home MVP honors in front of the Lakers faithful. What a difference seven years makes.
Last night, the starters for the 2011 All-Star Game were announced for both the Eastern and Western Conference. The overall leading vote-getter was Kobe Bryant, who led by more than 300,000 votes. With his 13th All-Star selection, Bryant only trails Jerry West, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time most All-Star selections. Let’s take a look at who will be joining Kobe in Los Angeles next month.
Guard – Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
The first-time starter will be making his second straight All-Star appearance. Derrick Rose is in the midst of what many are calling an MVP-worthy season. Leading Chicago to a 31-14 record despite injuries to key parts of his supporting cast, Rose is averaging nearly 25 points, five rebounds and eight assists per game. The Bulls are currently seeded third behind the brilliance of this rising young superstar. Buzz in the Windy City is the biggest it has been since the days of “His Airness.”
Guard – Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
The original “Heatle” will start the All-Star Game for the sixth time in seven appearances. The MVP of last year’s All-Star game in Dallas, Dwyane Wade has finally started to gel with his new teammates in Miami. Though his scoring average is down just a tad, he’s rebounding at a career high rate. On average, Wade is posting 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game. The Heat are currently battling with Boston for the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
Forward – LeBron James, Miami Heat
For LeBron James, 2010 may go down as a career-defining year. After failing in his mission to get the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals, LeBron decided to join his friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. After a rocky start, things are looking up for the new-look Heat and James. The “King” is putting up 26 points, seven rebounds and seven assists a night. Now he’s taking his talents to the All-Star Game, where he’ll start for the seventh time in as many appearances.
Forward – Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
A testament to his tremendous season, Amar’e Stoudemire is the first New York Knick to be selected as an All-Star Game starter since Patrick Ewing in 1992. This will be Amar’e’s third straight start in six appearances and his first time playing for the Eastern Conference. A player that many reduced to a product of Steve Nash’s play, Stoudemire is arguably having his best season as a pro. Averages of 26 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks is All-Star material.
Center – Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
The man in the middle will start for the fourth time in five appearances after being the leading vote-getter for All-Stars in the Eastern Conference. A lot of things have changed about the Magic this season, but Dwight Howard’s consistency has kept them in the mix. The 22 points a night he’s averaging would be a career high, and he’s giving you 13 rebounds and two blocks with it. He’s also a candidate to win this third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Guard – Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
Selected as a reserve last year, Chris Paul sat out the 2010 All-Star Game due to injury. Not only is Paul healthy this year, his status as a reserve has been upgraded to starter for the second time. The now four-time All-Star guided the Hornets to a fast start, keeping a team, who missed the postseason last year, right in the middle of the pack this season. Averaging 16 points, four rebounds, 10 assists and three steals a night will help New Orleans avoid another early season exit.
Guard – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
The “elder statesman” of the big game will start for the 13th consecutive time. With the game taking place in Los Angeles this year, we can expect the three-time All-Star Game MVP to gun for his fourth in front of the home crowd. It wouldn’t be the first time Kobe Bryant has dazzled the crowd at Staples this season. Prematurely dubbed “an old man” heading into the season, Kobe is putting up 25 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. The Lakers are seeded second out West, slowly waiting for another lengthy postseason run.
Forward – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Currently in position to lead the NBA in scoring for the second straight year, 22-year-old Kevin Durant has been selected as an All-Star starter for the first time in his second straight appearance. His 29 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game has the Thunder seeded in the top half of the Western Conference for the first time since moving to the city. Durant was runner-up in MVP voting last season – is this the year that the scoring sensation gets it done?
Forward – Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
In a season that has been overshadowed by looming trade rumors, Carmelo Anthony has stayed the course. His averages of 24 points, eight rebounds and three assists are good enough for his third consecutive All-Star Game start in four appearances. What’s interesting about Melo’s selection is that he’ll be out of a starting gig if he’s traded to an Eastern Conference team prior to the game. If the destination is New York City as expected, Anthony may not be hooping for the West in February.
Center – Yao Ming, Houston Rockets
Here’s where the fan voting really blows your mind. Yao has played in only five games this season, but has been voted an All-Star starter for the seventh time in his eight selections. While we all have a soft spot for Yao and the problems he’s dealt with, he certainly isn’t deserving of a spot on this year’s team. A replacement for Yao will be selected by the commissioner and the fill-in starter will be determined by the coach. Many have that player pegged to be Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki.
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