The results are in, and we know who will represent the Western Conference as All-Star reserves in New Orleans this year. As announced on Thursday on TNT, the coaches collectively chose the following group: Dwight Howard (Rockets), LaMarcus Aldridge (Blazers), Damian Lillard (Blazers), Tony Parker (Spurs), Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks), Chris Paul (Clippers) and James Harden (Rockets).
Dwight Howard: Like Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference, Howard fell victim to the All-Star format that disregards the forward-center distinction in fan voting. The West will start forwards Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin, leaving the Houston center coming off the bench. The back injury that hampered Howard last season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers seems to be a thing of the past. This year, he's averaged 18.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game alongside fellow All-Star James Harden.
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LaMarcus Aldridge: Aldridge has led the emergence of the Trail Blazers as a Western Conference contender. The most dangerous pick-and-pop threat in the game has averaged 24.3 points and 11.3 rebounds and is as efficient as ever scoring in the post. In terms of big games, he arguably has put together the best compilation of the season outside of Kevin Durant. Aldridge scored 30 points and grabbed 21 rebounds when the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors in November and the next month went for 31 points and 25 boards in a win over Houston. On Jan. 20, the next time he played the Rockets, he went for 27 points and 20 rebounds. Three days later, the night that he missed the cut as an All-Star starter, he had a 44-point, 13-board performance in a win over the Nuggets.
Damian Lillard: Aldridge's running mate has played a big part in his success. Lillard is averaging 20.6 points and 5.6 assists this year and while his overall shooting is a tad bit down, his three-point shot has improved almost five percent from his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012-13. Lillard's willingness to get to the basket and draw fouls has also taken a step forward.
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James Harden: While Harden's numbers have slipped since joining forces with Howard, he still represents the class of the NBA's shooting guard position. Harden is averaging 23.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 rebounds in his second year in Houston. Despite his defensive flaws, he is still one of the most dangerous slashers in the game, and an important piece of the Rockets' inside-out -- or outside-in -- attack.
Tony Parker: There are several point guards who could rightly stake a claim to this spot, but Parker has years of experience on his side and the coaches have elected to reward winning. He's averaging 18.1 points and 6.2 assists per game, which is slightly worse than last season, but he's been basically the same player and he's been making more of his three-pointers. This is his sixth All-Star selection.
Dirk Nowitzki: It feels like there are a hundred excellent frontcourt players in the West, but that doesn't mean it's time for Nowitzki to step aside. He's carrying a heavy load for the Mavericks on offense, and his scoring average is back up over 21 points per game after last year's blip. Dallas is holding on to the eighth spot in the conference because of an offense that revolves around Nowitzki being unguardable. He's still absolutely deserving of his spot.
Chris Paul: Paul is still the best point guard in the world. His absence over the last few weeks means no one is talking about him as an MVP candidate, but Paul was playing at that level earlier this season. Under Doc Rivers, he has been more aggressive than in his first two years as a Clipper, upping his averages to 19.6 points and 11.2 assists per game. Let's hope he's healthy enough to play in his seventh straight All-Star game.