Carlisle, West coaches face tough choices

DALLAS -- The 2011 All-Star Game starters, as voted on by fans, will be announced Thursday. Then the real work comes for the league's head coaches, who will select the seven reserves for each squad. Those spots will be announced Feb. 3.

Perhaps the most intriguing position is forward for the Western Conference. Carmelo Anthony, assuming he isn't traded to an Eastern Conference team beforehand, and Kevin Durant, are leading the fans' vote to start the Feb. 20 All-Star Game held at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Then the coaches must choose, maybe as many as four reserves from the following pool of worthy candidates: Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love.

While some -- OK, one -- has made the suggestion that the coaches should bypass Nowitzki this year, that just isn't going to happen despite a knee injury that sidelined him for nine games and has taken a toll on his shooting percentage. Before his injury on Dec. 27, Nowitzki was averaging 24.1 points on a blistering 54.5-percent shooting.

"During that period of time, he was the MVP [of the league] in my opinion," Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "His value to us -- he’s priceless to us."

No MVP candidate will be left off the All-Star team. The coaches could catch a slight break if NBA commissioner David Stern selects Tim Duncan to replace the injured Yao Ming, the fans' nonsensical vote to start at center. Duncan is technically a power forward, but he's as close as it gets to a pure center and the most sensible candidate to replace Yao.

What if Stern doesn't select Duncan? Do you really think the coaches leave him off the team? Duncan has made every All-Star Game since he entered the league and according to Carlisle's standards for voting, he would seem a shoe-in even though his statistics, for various reasons, are not at his career levels.

"The thing that I’ll tell you and I’ll be very frank is that the coaches' vote is always tipped heavily toward winning," Carlisle said. 'I’m no different than the rest of the voters. I think that’s a major factor in who gets the votes. Those guys are 37-4 [38-7] or something. You got to take a strong look at that, that Duncan’s on a team that’s winning every game. That’s a big deal and it should be. As we get closer to it and I look at it, it’s going to be some difficult votes for sure."

The game is in Los Angeles, so how can coaches leave Gasol (18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg) off the team? And what about the Clips' rookie sensation and dunkmeister Griffin (22.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg), who has made the other L.A. team relevant in all of half a season?

But, if winning is such a significant factor, would the Clippers' 17-27 record hold Griffin back? If it does, what chance does rebounding machine Kevin Love, playing for the 10-34 Timberwolves, have of making his first All-Star squad? Love, a UCLA product, is averaging 21.4 points and 15.6 rebounds and became the first player to record a 30-30 game (30 points, 31 rebounds) since Moses Malone did it in 1982.

"There’s a few games until [selections are due] and you look at all that stuff," Carlisle said. "Kevin Love is having a great year, having a breakout year. And so he’s a guy that will get consideration for sure."

Good luck.