NEW YORK (AP) — From Kobe Bryant to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin to Andrew Bynum, the NBA All-Star game is shaping up as an L.A. story.
Two Lakers and two Clippers were voted as starters Thursday for the game, the first time in 15 years that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference.
“It’s pretty cool,” Griffin said.
Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant prevented a clean Los Angeles sweep of the Western Conference starting lineup by earning a forward spot for the Feb. 26 game in Orlando.
Dwight Howard of the host Magic — unless he’s traded first — was the overall leading vote-getter with 1.6 million. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going together again from Miami, while MVP Derrick Rose of Chicago and New York’s Carmelo Anthony round out the East starters.
The Clippers and Lakers are developing a spirited rivalry this season, but they’ll have to get along for a night to give the West a second straight win in the NBA’s midseason event.
Bryant and Paul will be in the same backcourt two months after the NBA, as owners of the Hornets, killed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Instead, he was dealt shortly after to the Clippers, and he has teamed with Griffin to make them one of the league’s most exciting and improved teams, leading the Pacific Division over their Staples Center co-tenants.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be voted as an All-Star starter,” Paul said. “I want to thank the fans for their support. It’s even more special to be starting with one of my teammates.”
Griffin and Bynum are first-time starters, while Bryant earned his record-tying 14th consecutive nod.
Griffin said he’s not planning on defending his title in the dunk contest, which he won by dunking over a car last year in Los Angeles.
“It’s not really my thing. I said that last year,” he said.
Griffin was a reserve selection last year, when he also played in the rookie game.
“Last year it was hectic,” he said. “I’ll try to tone it down and try to get a break.”
It’s the first time since 1997, when Houston had Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, and Seattle sent Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference.
Bryant joins Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Karl Malone — all one-time Lakers — with his 14th straight starting nod. He earned his fourth All-Star MVP award last year, equaling Bob Pettit’s NBA record.
Bynum grabbed the starting center spot that for years went to Yao Ming, who retired last summer. Griffin was chosen as a reserve forward last year, when he became the first rookie All-Star since Yao in 2003.
Starters were chosen by fan balloting, and none of the races was close. The reserves will be chosen by voting of the head coaches from each conference and will be announced next Thursday.
Bryant led all West players with nearly 1.6 million votes. Rose collected 1.5 million to finish third among all players, a year after becoming Chicago’s first starter since Michael Jordan.
“I remember not being in the All-Star game, just wanting to be in the game. It’s something you should take to heart, that I take to heart,” Rose said before the Bulls’ game against the Knicks. “Just want to accomplish something special while I’m in the league, and one of the accomplishments is being on the All-Star team.”
Howard will make his fifth consecutive start, and his status will provide much of the intrigue surrounding the event. He has told the Magic he wants to be traded and they have given his agent permission to talk to select teams, putting the franchise in a difficult position of deciding whether it should deal its superstar before hosting the weekend.
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen in New York and Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.