James, Antetokounmpo picked as All-Star captains

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              Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James gestures from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 101-95. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers is a captain and an All-Star starter — again.

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks will choose his own teammates as the other captain.

And Hornets guard Kemba Walker is about to make his first All-Star start, on his home floor in Charlotte.

While there were perhaps mild surprises, there were no real stunners during Thursday night’s unveiling of the starters for the NBA All-Star Game that will be played in Charlotte on Feb. 17. James and Antetokounmpo are captains, their perk for being the leading vote-getters out of the Western and Eastern Conferences, and nine of this year’s 10 starters have been chosen to begin All-Star Games in the past.

Walker is the lone exception, and broke into a smile when realizing he was a pick.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Walker told TNT during the broadcast to announce the starters.

The starting guards from the East are Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Walker. The East frontcourt picks were Antetokounmpo, Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. From the West, Stephen Curry and reigning NBA MVP James Harden were the picks at guard, with James, Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City’s Paul George getting the frontcourt spots.

“I had a lot of doubt coming into my early career about just even being an elite point guard in this league,” Walker said. “So for me to become an All-Star for two straight years and then now to become an All-Star starter most definitely proves the doubters wrong. So this is an unbelievable moment in my career.”

James, who has been out for a month with a groin injury but is nearing a return, extended his own record by getting picked as a starter for the 15th consecutive year. He was also a captain last year in the first usage of this captain’s-choice format — and just like last year, James will have the No. 1 pick when he and Antetokounmpo get together on Feb. 7 to choose their 12-man teams.

The Bucks, off to an NBA-best 34-12 start, were predictably thrilled that Antetokounmpo earned one of the captaincies.

“It speaks to how incredible of a player he is, how much excitement he creates for fans and people want to follow him and watch him and I guess vote for him in this case,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who currently is the front-runner to coach one of the two All-Star teams. “It’s just well-deserved.”

Reserves will be announced Jan. 31, based on the selections made by NBA coaches. From there, James and Antetokounmpo will choose their rosters on Feb. 7, with conference affiliations irrelevant.

All-Star starters are chosen by a weighted combination of voting from fans, media and NBA players. Among the notable snubs based on who the fans want to see: Dallas rookie Luka Doncic, second in the West frontcourt voting; Minnesota’s Derrick Rose, second in the West guard voting; and Miami guard Dwyane Wade, who fans voted second among East guards in his 16th and final NBA season.

Wade is one of four still-active past All-Star MVPs waiting to see if an All-Star nod is coming. The others are Houston’s Chris Paul, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.

Antetokounmpo already, and understandably, seems sure that Westbrook will be a reserve pick. Westbrook and Embiid tangled in a 76ersThunder game last week, and sent a few pointed words in each other’s direction afterward. And mindful of that, Antetokounmpo said he wants to bring the stars together.

“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” Antetokounmpo said. “If I can pick Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook on the same team, I’m going to do it.”