When the NBA's best players get together at the All-Star Game this Sunday at the Toyota Center in Houston, the Western Conference will be looking to notch their third straight victory over the East.
This year, look for the same stars to lead the Western Conference. Durant and Bryant will be joined in the starting lineup in 2013 by Bryant's Lakers' teammate Dwight Howard at center, who will be making his first appearance for the West. A pair of Los Angeles Clippers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, round out the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference will be led by reigning MVP LeBron James, who will make his ninth straight All-Star appearance in 2013. His Miami Heat teammate Dwyane Wade joins him in the starting lineup, as do New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Celtics center Kevin Garnett. Garnett's Boston teammate Rajon Rondo was voted as the Eastern Conference's starting point guard, but will have to sit out this game after tearing his ACL a few weeks ago. Cleveland's Kyrie Irving may replace him in the starting lineup.
Entering the weekend, the biggest storyline might be how a young Eastern Conference team handles the more veteran Western Conference squad. Incredibly, the East has six players on their roster who will be playing in their first All-Star Game.
Along with Irving, the Bulls' Joakim Noah, the Nets' Brook Lopez, the Knicks' Tyson Chandler, Indiana's Paul George and Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday will all be making their first All-Star Game appearances. Houston's James Harden will be the the only first-time participant for the Western Conference. He will also be the only home-town Rocket represented in the game.
When the game does tip off, the Western Conference should have the edge offensively. The West boasts four of the league's top seven scorers, with Durant, Bryant, Harden and Westbrook all averaging at least 22.5 points per game.
The West will also have three of the league's five best rebounders, with Howard, Memphis' Zach Randolph and Golden State's David Lee all averaging at least 8.8 boards per game this season. Howard and Randolph rank No.'s 1 and 2 in the NBA in the category, with 11.9 and 11.5 averages respectively, while Noah will be the top rebounder on East squad, averaging 11.4 a contest in 2013.
Finally, guard play could be key, and both teams should get strong performances out of their backcourts.
West starter Chris Paul is second in the NBA with 9.5 assists per game and he will be joined by Westbrook and San Antonio's Tony Parker, who have combined to average 15.6 assists in the first half of the regular season. Don't sleep on the East's young combination of Irving (5.5 assists a game) and Holiday (8.9 assists per game), who can each dish the rock as well.
Other key players could include San Antonio's Tim Duncan, who enters the game averaging a near double-double (17.2 points per game and 9.6 rebounds) and Miami's Chris Bosh, who is averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds for the first-place Heat.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 17
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Location: Toyota Center, Houston