Despite it being simply an exhibition, the 2014 All-Star Game won't be lacking for story lines.
Starters for the Eastern and Western Conference teams were announced Wednesday evening, with LeBron James (1,416,419 votes) and Kevin Durant (1,396,294 votes) leading the way. It was the second straight year the leading MVP candidates ranked first and second in voting; James will be making his 10th All-Star appearance in 11 seasons, while Durant will head to All-Star Weekend for the fifth time in seven years.
James will join fellow Miami teammate Dwyane Wade, New York's Carmelo Anthony, Indiana's Paul George and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving in the starting lineup for the East. Irving and George each will make their second appearances and first starts in the game, with Anthony earning his seventh trip, and Wade his 10th.
George's rise among the NBA's elite continues to impress. As the NBA's Most Improved Player a year ago, he received more than 1.2 million votes, trailing only James and Durant. He's putting together an MVP-type season while leading the NBA-best 33-8 Pacers.
[BY THE NUMBERS: Bulls' stats at the halfway point]
The only controversial pick in the East is Wade, who has missed 13 of the Heat's 43 games. Still, his 19.8 points on 54 percent shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists are hard to argue with -- the fact that fans pick the starters leave little room for argument, too.
There's far more controversy in the Western Conference. Joining Durant in the starting lineup will be the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Minnesota's Kevin Love, Golden State's Stephen Curry and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, who has played just six games this season and is still sidelined while recovering from a fractured knee, has been vocal about not wanting to play in the game, both because he doesn't feel he was deserving of his 16th appearance and because he felt other guards, most notably Portland's Damian Lillard, was more deserving.
He'll likely be healthy for the Feb. 16 game, and he said Wednesday that he understands he'll be forced by the NBA to play in the game, but he admits he "do my two minutes and sit down." Still, he understands that his inclusion on the team "means somebody will have to lose a spot, unfortunately."
Both Griffin and Love jumped Dwight Howard in the voting, and Rockets general manager took to Twitter on Wednesday to voice his displeasure with the voting process. This season all players were put into a "backcourt" and "frontcourt" category, rather than a true center being voted into the starting lineup. There are no true centers in either starting lineup -- Howard came closest, earning less than 8,00 fewer votes than Love -- an indication that the league is truly shifting away from less traditional roles.
Chris Paul led the Western Conference backcourt for much of the early voting, but a shoulder injury has forced him to miss the Clippers' last nine games, allowing both Curry and Bryant to move ahead of him.
As Yahoo! Sports points out, there are four first-time starters in the two lineups. George, Irving, Curry and Love will all start for the first time, and those four are the most since 2000, when Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tim Duncan and Eddie Jones all were voted in as first-time starters. Curry, who was snubbed out of the All-Star Game last year, is the first Warriors starter since Latrell Sprewell in 1995, breaking the longest such drought of any team.
The 15 coaches in each conference will select the remaining seven players for each conference. Those names will be announced on Jan. 30.