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Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Updated: February 12, 8:18 PM ET
My All-Star ballot

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

OK. This is how it's going to go.

The NBA will announce its All-Star Game starters on Thursday. That makes Wednesday and Friday ideal for debates.

We didn't actually punch a ballot, because the ballots belong to the fans, but the selections below reflect how we would have voted. These are, to me, the five most deserving starters in each conference, based not on popularity but their play to date ... and the positions at which they're listed on the official ballot.

On Friday we'll pick our seven reserves in each conference the same way the coaches do, after seeing the real-life starters and following the guidelines that come from the league office.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FORWARDS
LIKELY FAN SELECTIONS Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and San Antonio's Tim Duncan.
STEIN'S SELECTIONS Garnett and Duncan.
COMMENT Can't quarrel too loudly, although Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic is the bronze medalist here by a seriously slim margin.

WESTERN CONFERENCE CENTER
LIKELY FAN SELECTION L.A. Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal or Houston's Yao Ming.
STEIN'S SELECTION O'Neal.
COMMENT Yao and the Rockets are progressing nicely, but Shaq has to be the choice if he's healthy. Especially a slimmed-down Shaq, who has stayed slim in spite of his recent calf troubles.

WESTERN CONFERENCE GUARDS
LIKELY FAN SELECTIONS L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Houston's Steve Francis.
STEIN'S SELECTIONS Minnesota's Sam Cassell and Bryant.
COMMENT It'd be great if Stojakovic could be slid to the starting two spot, since Francis' season so far doesn't merit starter status and because Peja deserves to start as much as KG or Duncan. But Peja is listed as a forward, so you can't move him. Kobe, meanwhile, has indeed missed some time through injury and courtroom obligations, but you'd have to agree he has held up remarkably well under the strain of his legal travails when he has played.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FORWARDS
LIKELY FAN SELECTIONS Toronto's Vince Carter and Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal.
STEIN'S SELECTIONS O'Neal and Indiana's Ron Artest.
COMMENT In a guard-heavy conference, the two best forwards thus far can be found in the same city, for both excel at both ends.

EASTERN CONFERENCE CENTER
LIKELY FAN SELECTION Detroit's Ben Wallace.
STEIN'S SELECTION Wallace.
COMMENT Hopefully he's bringing Reggie Reg, too.

EASTERN CONFERENCE GUARDS
LIKELY FAN SELECTIONS Philadelphia's Allen Iverson and Orlando's Tracy McGrady.
STEIN'S SELECTIONS Milwaukee's Michael Redd and New Orleans' Baron Davis.
COMMENT Our lefty bias is no longer a secret, but there might not be a scorer in the league more efficient than Redd. And Milwaukee has to get some recognition for surprising folks as much as Denver, Memphis or Utah. As for Baron, he edges Boston's Paul Pierce and the hobbled Iverson on our ballot in spite of his over-the-top obsession with three-pointers. Of course, after the final voting totals are announced, we'll have to re-name Redd, Davis and Pierce on Friday to the annual Stein Line List O' Reserves. Check back then, please.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.