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Thursday, December 30, 2004
Updated: February 17, 9:12 PM ET
Yao leads with 1.37 million votes

SportsTicker

NEW YORK -- Houston Rockets center Yao Ming has virtually locked up a third straight start in the NBA All-Star Game.

In his third season with the Rockets, Yao has nearly a 1.2 million-vote lead over Sacramento's Brad Miller among Western Conference centers in the second returns announced Thursday.

The Chinese native is the overall leader with 1,373,458 votes. He has a 62,000-vote edge over Miami center Shaquille O'Neal, the leader in the Eastern Conference.

The 54th NBA All-Star Game will be played in Denver on February 20.

Minnesota's Kevin Garnett (1,142,804) and San Antonio's Tim Duncan (886,547) lead Western Conference forwards, with Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki a distant third (482,220).

Houston's Tracy McGrady (1,065,230) and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers (1,005, 230) pace Western Conference guards and are the other two players who received more than 1 million votes. Phoenix guard Steve Nash, who has helped lead the Suns to a NBA-best record of 25-4, is third at the position with 540,147 votes.

O'Neal also has a commanding lead at his position as Detroit center Ben Wallace received just under 400,000 votes.

Vince Carter, recently acquired by New Jersey, leads forwards in the East with 938,817. He has a 90,000-lead over Orlando's Grant Hill, a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal, who returned to the court on Christmas Day after a judge cut 10 games off his 25-game suspension, is third at the position with 688,302.

Among Eastern Conference guards, Cleveland's LeBron James (843,363) and Philadelphia's Allen Iverson (825,179) lead Miami's Dwyane Wade (608,760).

Voting continues through Jan. 25 and the starters will be announced Feb. 3.