HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Garnering nearly 900,000 fan votes, the NBA’s Eastern Conference is on the verge of ushering a changing of the guard that could last a decade or more. Indiana Pacers forward Paul George is virtually assured of making his first All-Star Game start in little more than a month.
After the third returns of NBA All-Star balloting released Thursday afternoon, George ranks second in votes among East players behind only two-time reigning MVP LeBron James (1,076,063) of the Miami Heat, and third overall behind Western Conference MVP candidate Kevin Durant (1,054,209) of the Oklahoma City Thunder. George, averaging 23.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg, made his first All-Star appearance last year as a reserve. He is now set to replace fading veteran and future of Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett.
The 63rd NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 16 at the New Orleans Arena. Fan voting concludes on Jan. 20 and the starters will be announced live on TNT on Jan. 23. From there it will be up to the the coaches in each conference to fill out their respective rosters with seven reserves each.
George’s inclusion as a starter also virtually assures the East of starting an all-small forward frontcourt as James and the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony (702,869), who is third in votes, round out that category. Indiana center Roy Hibbert (385,964) is fourth, but well off the pace.
The East’s backcourt is also set to ring in a new starter, although Kyrie Irving‘s first start — and second consecutive All-Star appearance — might not be of the changing-of-the-guard type just yet because of injuries to Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Chicago’s Derrick Rose. Miami’s All-Star starting stalwart Dwyane Wade (718,109) leads all East backcourt candidates in votes. Irving is second (652,522). Rose (323,099), despite playing in just 10 games before suffering another knee injury, is third.
In the Western Conference, Durant is likely to be joined in frontcourt again by Los Angeles Clippers big man Blake Griffin (500,964), third in votes, and Rockets center Dwight Howard (509,116), second in votes. Howard made his West debut last season with the Lakers. Minnesota’s Kevin Love (483,031) could still make a late charge at a starting spot while Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge (404,793) is more a long shot.
Injuries will play a major role in the West’s lineup. Lakers star Kobe Bryant (844,538), out with a fractured knee, recently told fans to stop voting for him and to funnel votes to younger players in what is a crowded field of deserving candidates. Bryant, who likely won’t be ready to play in the All-Star Game, although that’s not certain, remains the top voter-getter in the backcourt.
However, there is interesting news to report: Golden State’s Steph Curry (677,372) has moved into a starting position ahead of Pacific Division foe Chris Paul (651,073) of the Clippers. It’s difficult to say how much, if at all, Paul’s separated right shoulder suffered last Friday affected voting. Paul is expected to miss at least six weeks with the injury.
Houston’s backcourt of Jeremy Lin (471,980) and James Harden (338,788) sit fourth and fifth, respectively.
As for hometown flavor, the only member of the New Orleans Pelicans receiving enough votes to be in the top 10 at their respective position is forward Anthony Davis (223,956). He’s averaging a double-double, leads the league in blocked shots and will certainly be high on the West coaches’ list to be included as a reserve.