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NBA All-Star Game 2014 predictions: Who should make it to New Orleans?

Two of SB Nation's experts make their picks for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game. Are there any surprises in the bunch?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans will be announced Thursday, which is as good a time for us to make our picks for who we think deserves to make the roster. Assume for a second that there is no fan or coaches vote and the destiny of 24 players lies in our hands and our hands only. How would we make our selections?

Paul Flannery and I were tasked with this unenviable job, and this is what we have decided. I picked the East; Paul picked the West. Here is our 2014 All-Star team:

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

EASTERN CONFERENCE

By Mike Prada

STARTERS

Guard: John Wall

Guard: Dwyane Wade

Frontcourt: Paul George

Frontcourt: LeBron James

Frontcourt: Roy Hibbert

RESERVES

Guard: Kyle Lowry

Guard: Kyrie Irving

Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony

Frontcourt: Chris Bosh

Frontcourt: Paul Millsap

Wild Card: Joakim Noah

Wild Card: Arron Afflalo

Toughest Omissions: Lance Stephenson, Thaddeus Young, Joe Johnson, Andre Drummond, DeMar DeRozan, Kemba WalkerLuol Deng, Michael Carter-Williams.

Man, finding 12 All-Star quality players in the Eastern Conference was harder than it looked. That's how bad this conference is.

The starting lineup was tricky enough. LeBron James and Paul George are obvious selections, and Roy Hibbert gets the other frontcourt spot instead of Carmelo Anthony because of his massive defensive impact. The backcourt, though, could be configured a lot of different ways. Dwyane Wade has the pedigree, but he's missed a third of the season. John Wall's having a very good year, but is still prone to taking too many jumpers and losing concentration at key moments. Kyrie Irving has bounced back after a rough start, but he still doesn't play defense and takes bad shots. Kyle Lowry has been fantastic for Toronto, but he's not nearly as dynamic as the other three. In the end, I went with Wade and Wall, but I could be talked into any combination involving the four players.

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The frontcourt reserves weren't too difficult. Anthony and Chris Bosh are an obvious choices, and Paul Millsap has been great all year for the surprising Hawks.

That leads us to the wild cards, which is where the fun begins. I eventually narrowed it down to the following five players: Joakim Noah, Lance Stephenson, Joe Johnson, Arron Afflalo and Thaddeus Young. Johnson's been on fire recently, but started slow, so I ruled him out. Young has put up some big numbers, but the 76ers are still eight points worse per 100 possessions when he's in, showing that Michael Carter-Williams, and not Young, is the team's real barometer.

That left Noah, Afflalo and Stephenson. The case for Lance is the loudest of the three right now, but when you compare the production of those three players, it's hard to see how Lance stacks up. Lance has shined in some big national games, but he's also had poor games like his 1-3, two-point performance at Portland or his 3-9, six-point performance at Phoenix. Meanwhile, Noah has been consistently great since mid-December, and Afflalo has been reliable and efficient all season for a Magic team that runs so much offense through him. You could argue that, as dynamic as he's been, Lance is the fourth-most important Pacer behind George, Hibbert and David West.

So, because of all that, I'm taking Noah and Afflalo. It's a tough call, but the burdens those two carry to be at the top of their games every night clinch it for me. The Pacers can win if Stephenson has an off night. The Bulls and Magic have no chance if Noah or Afflalo are struggling.

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Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

WESTERN CONFERENCE

By Paul Flannery

STARTERS

Guard: Chris Paul*

Guard: Stephen Curry

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant

Frontcourt: Kevin Love

Frontcourt: LaMarcus Aldridge

RESERVES

Guard: Damian Lillard

Guard: James Harden

Frontcourt: Blake Griffin

Frontcourt: Anthony Davis

Frontcourt: Dwight Howard

Wild Card: Dirk Nowitzki

Wild Card: Goran Dragic

Toughest Omissions: DeMarcus Cousins, Mike Conley, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, David Lee, Serge Ibaka, Monta Ellis, Isaiah Thomas.

Since this is about merit, I have Chris Paul as a starter even though he's hurt and may miss the All-Star game because he's been that good. If he can't play, the choice would come down to Conley or Cousins and I'd lean toward taking DMC.

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The last pick was the toughest. I went with Dragic over Conley because of his work the last few weeks without backcourt sidekick Eric Bledsoe, but I could be convinced either way. The Dragic pick came down in part to Phoenix's surprising success and Dragic's role as the leader of their offense.

What about the Spurs, you ask? They have the best record in the West and not an All-Star to be found. It's a fair point. In general I'm loathe to make All-Star selections based on team success as the starting point. For example, I reject the notion that Team X deserves two or three players because of its record.

If it comes down to one player or another then I'll use team record as a tiebreaker criteria as with Dragic and Conley, and those two have had better seasons than Tony Parker. Not by much, but enough to separate themselves ever so slightly.

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