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January 18, 2013

OKC’s Durant an All-Star starter

NEW YORK  —Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was named a starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team after receiving 1,504,047 votes, second most in the Western Conference, the NBA announced Thursday.

This will mark Durant’s third consecutive nomination as a starter and fourth appearance overall. During last year’s All-Star Game played at Amway Center in Orlando, Durant was the game’s Most Valuable Player after recording a game-high 36 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals in 38 minutes.

Durant has helped lead the Thunder to a NBA-best 31-8 record this season while averaging 28.7 points (3rd in the NBA) and 7.5 rebounds in 39.2 minutes per game. Additionally, the sixth-year forward is averaging career-highs in assists (4.2), steals (1.56) and blocks (1.31) and is on pace to join Larry Bird as the only players in NBA history to average 28-plus points while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, 90 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent from the 3-point line.

Kobe Bryant finished with 1,591,437 votes, edging Miami’s LeBron James by about 7,800 to finish as the top vote-getter, gaining his NBA-record 15th consecutive All-Star start and leading four Los Angeles players into next month’s game.

Lakers teammate Dwight Howard and the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will join Bryant in the Western Conference lineup for the Feb. 17 game in Houston.

Kevin Garnett held off Chris Bosh in fan balloting, giving the East two Boston Celtics and two Miami Heat players. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will represent the defending champions and receive passes from Rajon Rondo. New York’s Carmelo Anthony is the other starter.

Bryant by one now edges Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Karl Malone for the most consecutive starting nods. The NBA’s leading scorer is a four-time MVP of the All-Star game and last year became its career scoring leader.

It’s the second straight year that Los Angeles teams will make up four players. Last year it was Bryant, Paul, Griffin and Andrew Bynum, who was dealt to Philadelphia in part of the deal that sent Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles.

The ballot changed this year, eliminating the center position. Fans were required to vote for three frontcourt players and two guards.

They picked an interesting mix in the East. Anthony and Garnett exchanged words during a game on Jan. 7 and Anthony was suspended a game by the NBA when he tried to confront Garnett afterward in the tunnel area and by the team bus.

Rondo was injured in the playoffs two years ago after getting tangled up with Wade and landing awkwardly on his arm, part of what’s become a tense rivalry between the Celtics and Heat.

Reserves will be announced next Thursday. Coaches will vote for seven players in their conferences: two guards, three frontcourt players and two players regardless of position, and can’t vote for a player on their own team.

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