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HELENE ELLIOTT

Calling All-Stars in Los Angeles

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will join Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in West lineup, a big moment for Clippers, who have never had an All-Star starter in L.A.

February 02, 2012|Helene Elliott
  • Clippers power forward Blake Griffin leaps for a towering dunk over Nuggets guard Danilo Gallinari in the first half at Staples Center on Thursday night.
Clippers power forward Blake Griffin leaps for a towering dunk over Nuggets… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

The Clippers were so nonchalant about Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being chosen to start for the Western Conference in the NBA All-Star game that you'd almost think it happens every day.

Public-address announcer David Courtney made a quick proclamation to the crowd before Thursday's 112-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, drawing a swell of applause that was lost in the buildup to the opening tipoff.

Photos of the two players wearing All-Star uniforms were posted on the center-hanging scoreboard, but the team staged no pregame news conference for the duo. The Clippers' media relations department issued a polite statement from each player before the game that said all the right things about being honored and thanking their teammates and the fans who cast ballots.

No fireworks. No confetti.

Just an everyday occurrence for the Clippers — if yesterday had been 32 years ago.

The NBA's announcement that Griffin and Blake will start alongside Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant in the Feb. 26 game at Orlando was no surprise because the voting had been trending that way all along.

But despite the Clippers' best efforts to treat the moment as business as usual, it was a seminal event for a team that last had an All-Star starter in 1980, when World B. Free was chosen by fans of the then-San Diego Clippers to start at guard.

Paul, the steady, mature floor general who has become the Clippers' catalyst and conscience, got 1,138,743 votes among West guards, second only to the 1,555,479 cast for Bryant. Griffin, famed for his acrobatic dunks but capable of much more, got 876,451 votes among West forwards, behind only Durant's 1,345,566. The last time the Clippers franchise had two players on an All-Star team was 1976, when Randy Smith and Bob McAdoo started for the then-Buffalo Braves.

"It's always special to be voted in by the fans," Paul said after the game Thursday, "because that means they really enjoy you and want to see you play. So I'm excited."

Not so long ago it would have been inconceivable that so many people would want to see members of the Clippers play in the All-Star game.

In any game, almost.

But not only are the Clippers being mentioned in the same conversation as the Lakers, Griffin and Paul will play alongside two Lakers on Feb. 26, briefly uniting players who quickly and heatedly became rivals while sharing a hallway at Staples Center.

"It should be a fun game," Griffin said of playing with Bryant and Bynum. "That's what these games are about."

If this isn't a golden era in basketball in Los Angeles, it's certainly close.

We get to see Bryant, though battered and probably playing too many minutes in this absurdly condensed, lockout-shortened season, lead the NBA in scoring. We're watching Bynum grow up, learning to take better care of his body as he becomes a force at both ends of the court for a Lakers team that is discovering the benefits of playing staunch defense.

And we saw the Clippers take Thursday's announcement in stride, as if they're accustomed to their players collecting significant honors. Or they'd like to be.

Maybe someday they will be.

"Knowing the fans recognize the effort and commitment Chris and Blake exhibit every day as leaders of this organization is special for everyone in the Clipper family," General Manager Neil Olshey said.

"They are both team-first guys, and while this is an individual honor, I know they share it with their teammates, coaches and trainers."

Coach Vinny Del Negro might prefer that Paul and Griffin, who were each averaging 45 minutes a game before Thursday's loss, take time off during the All-Star break. But there are benefits to having them carry the Clippers banner in Orlando.

"I think it's a great honor and it's well-deserved, but you definitely want to let them get some rest," Del Negro said before the game. "We have a lot of games before we have to worry about those issues. Let's see where everything ends up. But, obviously, well-deserved."

All-Star voting is generally a popularity contest and can produce strange choices. Dwight Howard, voted the East's starting center by hometown fans, is leading the NBA in rebounding, but the Magic is foundering and Howard could be traded before the All-Star break. Miami's LeBron James is inarguable at forward, New York's Carmelo Anthony debatable as a standout individual player who hasn't made his team appreciably better. Chicago guard Derrick Rose, the reigning MVP, deserves a spot. Miami's Dwyane Wade has been hampered by injuries this season but merits an eighth straight All-Star appearance.

This will be Griffin's second straight All-Star appearance and first start and Paul's fifth All-Star selection, and those notes are worth savoring long after Thursday's loss is forgotten. Clippers losses aren't quite as rare as occasions when two of their players are designated as All-Star starters, but they are providing far more occasions to celebrate than they ever have.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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