Houston, TX -- The league's very best collide on Sunday night when the 62nd annual NBA All-Star Game takes center stage from Houston's Toyota Center.
The yearly East vs. West clash this season will showcase many familiar faces. Eight of last year's starters were voted back in by the fans, led by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
He was the leading vote-getter this year and it marked a record 15th consecutive year Bryant was tabbed by the fans. He's consistently brought the excellence to this event, winning four MVPs, including a shared one with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
One year ago, Bryant scored 27 in a winning effort for the West and passed Michael Jordan as the All-Star Game's all-time leading scorer.
Bryant will recognize the faces during the opening jump.
Chris Paul (fourth appearance) and Blake Griffin (third) of the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Durant (fourth) of the Oklahoma City Thunder, last year's MVP, each started for the West last season as well.
The fifth starter is center Dwight Howard, who started for the East last season before the offseason trade that sent him from the Orlando Magic to the Lakers. It has not been a banner season for the Lakers and the relationship between Bryant and Howard, who made his seventh All-Star team, has been frosty at best.
"What I told him (Howard) was whatever critics and pundits say, you can't adjust your game, you have to do what you do," Bryant said on Friday. "Everything else will fall into place."
They face an Eastern group loaded with talent, but headlined by the best player in the world, who is playing the best basketball of his career.
LeBron James was the highest vote-getter in the East and recently completed the first stretch in NBA history of six games with 30-plus points while shooting 60 percent or higher.
"My coaches put me in position, my teammates allow me to do what I do, and I just go out and play my game," said the nine-time All Star. "And I've been successful."
That's an understatement.
James, a two-time All-Star Game MVP, is well on his way to a fourth regular- season MVP award. His Heat have the best record in the Eastern Conference, making their head coach, Erik Spoelstra, the leader of the East team.
Spoelstra's first challenge as coach was to replace Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup. After Rondo went down with a torn ACL, Spoelstra pegged his own guy, Chris Bosh, to start in the game in his eighth-straight appearance.
With Dwyane Wade (ninth) already in the first group, it marked the first time since the 1990 Los Angeles Lakers that three players from the same team were in the starting five.
"This is an honor, it's an honor for our organization," Spoelstra said. "We have three of our players. We get to share the experience with them as a coaching staff. It's a special time for our organization."
James, Wade and Bosh will team with the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony (sixth appearance) and the Celtics' Kevin Garnett (15th).
Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs is the coach of the West and will see some of his own guys down the bench.
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both made the team as reserves. Duncan has been hobbled by knee and ankle injuries, so it's doubtful he will see much action in this, his 14th All-Star appearance. Parker made his fifth team.
The rest of Pop's bench is a good mix of experienced veterans and only one first-timer. But that All-Star rookie is going to be a very popular one.
James Harden is the only representative from the hometown Rockets. After a trade just before the start of the season, Harden is third in the league in scoring behind Durant and Bryant and made his first All-Star team in his first year with the Rockets.
"I'm enjoying it and having fun with it," said Harden.
Russell Westbrook (third) of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Zach Randolph (second) of the Memphis Grizzlies, David Lee (second) of the Golden State Warriors and LaMarcus Aldridge (second straight) from the Portland Trail Blazers round out Popovich's reserve corps.
Spoelstra's second unit is very big-man-heavy and very new to the experience. The East bench has only two guards and six first-timers.
Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, Joakim Noah from the Chicago Bulls and Tyson Chandler of the Knicks are all rookies.
Only the Bulls' Luol Deng has any All-Star experience on the East bench and this is his second straight trip.
The West won the last two All-Star Games. The game is generally a feel-good, fast breaking, defensive-optional affair. But don't confuse this contest as something the players aren't invested in, outcome-wise.
"The first half is the feel-out process," said James. "We try to get a feel on what we're going to see. The second half, everyone's competitive nature kicks in.
"At that time, both teams want to win."
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