By Art Garcia, NBA.com
This just makes sense.
Bringing a level of pandemonium to the league not felt or witnessed in years, Los Angeles Clippers phenom Blake Griffin earned a place on the NBA's brightest stage as one of seven Western Conference reserves for the All-Star Game.
The Feb. 20 showcase from Griffin's home arena, Staples Center in Los Angeles, is being broadcast on TNT and ESPN Radio. West coaches broke a 13-year drought by voting in Griffin as the first rookie All-Star since San Antonio's Tim Duncan in 1998.
Rounding out the West reserves are Duncan and Manu Ginobili from the league-leading Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Dallas perennial All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki, Utah point guard Deron Williams and Oklahoma City newcomer Russell Westbrook.
The Western Conference All-Star team is being coached for the second time by San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.
Among the notable names that didn't make the cut are rebound leader Kevin Love of Minnesota, Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Memphis forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay, and two-time Most Valuable Player Steve Nash of Phoenix.
Those players and others still have a chance to make the team, since commissioner David Stern has to choose an injury replacement for starting center Yao Ming of Houston. The reserves join the four uninjured starters -- Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Chris Paul (New Orleans), Kevin Durant (Thunder) and Carmelo Anthony (Denver) -- named to the West All-Star team last week via fan voting.
Griffin merited a spot on the coaches' ballots by taking the league by storm in the first three months of his belated rookie campaign. The 21-year-old power forward is the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Kevin Garnett and Duncan are the only two other players to accomplish that feat for a full season since 2001-02.
Griffin has won Rookie of the Month all three months of the season. He punished Indiana to the tune of 47 points and 14 rebounds last month. He's second in the league in double-doubles (behind Love) and second in dunks (behind fellow Slam Dunk contest competitor Dwight Howard).
He's also putting people in seats, both at home and on the road. And after a slow start, the Clippers are winning.
"He deserves to be on the All-Star team," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said recently.
The reserves chosen were appreciative of the recognition, especially coming from their rivals. Coaches aren't allowed to vote for their own players.
"Coaches have voted me on the three times I have been a part of it," Gasol said. "That is very meaningful because they know the game. Obviously, it would be nice to be voted on by the fans to start the game, but it's meaningful just to get the coaches to give you that vote."
Gasol gives the two-time defending champs two players in the All-Star Game, along with Bryant. The event being held in Los Angeles is a bonus.
"It makes it more special, obviously to play at home," Gasol added.
Duncan is on the team for the 13th time, only the second as a reserve. The two-time MVP and four-time champion may be averaging the lowest numbers of his career, but he remains the backbone of the Spurs. Ginobili, just as vital to San Antonio's 40-8 start, has been rewarded with his second All-Star invite.
"It's a great honor. It's a big event," Ginobili said. "Since I was a kid, I always watched the game and dreamed of being in it. The thrill is still there."
Williams is back on the West team after making his All-Star debut last season in Dallas, his hometown. The coaches made sure to include a Maverick by selecting Nowitzki for the 10th consecutive year.
"It will be an honor to represent a great organization and great fans in this year's All-Star Game," Nowitzki said.
Westbrook gives the Thunder two players on the team, mirroring the climb of his high-profile teammate. Durant, the defending scoring champ and current scoring leader. Durant made his first All-Star squad in this third year through the coaches' vote, just as Westbrook did.
"It's a great honor, a great accomplishment, something I've worked hard for," Westbrook said.
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