In both conferences, it appears four of the five NBA All-Star Game starting spots have been decided. The fifth and final places will likely be determined by voting over the next seven days.
The NBA released its third returns in All-Star balloting Thursday, with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green and New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony each holding slim margins for the final frontcourt spot in their respective conferences:
2018 NBA All-Star @NBAAllStar
Carmelo & Draymond hold slim leads for starting spots in third returns of #NBAAllStarTO Voting presented by @Verizon https://t.co/1KdQVhrYy82016-1-14 18:03:43
Anthony currently sits a little more than 7,000 votes ahead of Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond for the East's final spot. Green is just over 12,000 votes in front of San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
Kobe Bryant remains the overall leading vote-getter, with his 1,533,432 votes putting him more than 300,000 ahead of his next closest competitor (Stephen Curry). Bryant has nearly double the votes of any Eastern Conference player, as LeBron James leads that pack with 830,345. The Los Angeles Lakers guard has been anything but an All-Star on the floor but has received votes in droves after announcing he'll retire at the end of the season.
“He deserves it,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant told B/R's Michael Pina. “He’s done so much for the game, and the fans love him. And they’ve been loving him for a long time. So he deserves it, man. It’s his last year. Of course, every year somebody gets snubbed from the All-Star Game. But, you know, this year, they won’t mind seeing Kobe Bryant in there.”
Durant is a mortal lock for All-Star status, alongside Bryant, Curry and teammate Russell Westbrook. That foursome has a cushion of hundreds of thousands of votes—or more than a million in the case of Bryant.
James and former teammate Dwyane Wade are lapping the Eastern Conference returns, with Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving looking good for starting spots. Irving has a lead of more than 32,000 votes over Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, which may not be insurmountable if enough fans compare their two resumes.
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While buoyed by the popularity of playing next to James, Irving has done little to earn his All-Star keep this season. He has been limited to 10 games due to his recovery from knee surgery, which has kept his minutes limited since his return to the floor. The fifth-year point guard is averaging 16.5 points and 4.1 assists per game while shooting a career-low 41.5 percent from the floor and 26.1 percent from three-point range.
"If I'm voted in, I'll take that, put my hard hat on and go in there and be with the best because personally, in the back of my mind, I feel like I am one of the best in the league," Irving said while admitting criticism of his starter status was somewhat valid, per Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com. "So if they vote for me, all respect to them. They want to see great players."
Lowry has been playing the finest basketball of his career, averaging a career-high 20.7 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. He and DeMar DeRozan are the reasons Toronto currently sits a game ahead of the pack chasing the East's No. 2 seed.
As it stands, though, it's hard to get too bent out of shape about these things. The All-Star Game is a popularity contest.
The most deserving players are typically chosen, and even if there are one or two snubs thanks to Bryant and Irving, so be it. All-Star voting is one of those things not worth getting too worked up about.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.