1st-time All-Stars Morant, Wiggins picked to start

NBA

LeBron James and Kevin Durant again will be the captains of the two teams in this year’s All-Star Game, as the NBA on Thursday night announced the starters for its annual midseason showcase to be held Feb. 20 in Cleveland.

James, who has now been a captain in each of the five years the NBA has used this system to pick its teams, and Durant, who is one for a second straight year, earned the honor by finishing with more fan votes than anyone in their respective conferences.

James has now made 18 All-Star teams, tying Kobe Bryant for second place all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (19).

Joining James as starters from the Western Conference are Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant in the backcourt, along with reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and forward Andrew Wiggins of the Warriors in the frontcourt.

From the East, Durant, a 12-time All-Star, is joined by Chicago Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the backcourt, and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt.

Curry, now an 8-time All-Star, has helped lead Golden State back to the upper tier of the Western Conference after two injury-plagued years interrupted the Warriors’ string of five straight NBA Finals trips. Morant, meanwhile, makes his first All-Star appearance as Memphis, one of the most entertaining teams in the league, has pushed itself into third in the West.

Jokic, playing in his fourth straight All-Star Game, has followed up winning last year’s MVP by averaging 26.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game for Denver this season, keeping the Nuggets afloat while missing Jamal Murray for the entire season thus far and Michael Porter Jr. for all but a handful of games. Wiggins, who is averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 40% from 3-point range, will make his first All-Star appearance.

DeRozan, who joined the Bulls as a free agent this summer after playing the prior two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, has played a massive role in Chicago’s resurgence toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings, earning MVP consideration thanks to impressive clutch play while averaging 26.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Young makes his second All-Star team after averaging 27.7 points and 9.3 assists while posting career-best shooting percentages of 45.3 overall and 38 from 3-point range.

While Philadelphia has spent the season without All-Star guard Ben Simmons, Embiid has more than picked up the slack, averaging career-highs in points (29) and assists (4.3) per game, as well as 3-point percentage (38) to keep the 76ers in the middle of the East playoff picture. And Antetokounmpo has been the one constant for the defending champion Bucks this season amid a constant stream of injuries and COVID-19 absences, averaging 28.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and a career-high 6.0 assists per game.

The All-Star reserves, which will be selected by the coaches in both conferences, will be unveiled next Thursday on TNT. James and Durant then will pick their respective teams, a format the league first instituted in 2018.

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