Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard win fans’ vote


No surprise: Kobe Bryant made the All-Star team for the 15th time in 17 seasons. Surprise: Dwight Howard made it as a starter too.

Plenty of NBA analysts questioned Howard’s inclusion via fan voting. So did his own coach, in a way.

“Well, when you’re under .500 and you have two guys on the All-Star [team], that’s kind of like, really?” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said Thursday. “I’m with them a little bit. But I understand it. His injury kept him down and he’s coming back from his injury and he’s played at the All-Star level the last two or three games, so he’s coming on.”

Howard was off to a slow start partly because of off-season surgery for a herniated disk in his back. D’Antoni paused for a while when asked if he was having an All-Star-caliber season.

“You look at his numbers, yeah,” D’Antoni said. “By the All-Star game, yeah, he’ll be at that level. He’s played well lately and a lot of it is he’s feeling more comfortable with his body. That’s huge.”

Three TNT analysts gave thumbs down to Howard as a starter.

“Dwight Howard has not had an All-Star season this year. I disagree with that selection,” said Charles Barkley, who said big men Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan deserved it more.

Kenny Smith said Howard was “turning it on as of late. However, there have been guys who have turned it on from start to finish that are probably playing better.”

Added Shaquille O’Neal: “Dwight is a great player. From my standpoint he shouldn’t have made it. Congratulations to him.”

Howard was picked for his seventh All-Star game, his sixth as a starter. He was averaging 17.8 points and 12.6 rebounds before the Lakers’ game Thursday against Miami, down from 20.6 and 14.5 last season with Orlando.

The NBA went with a new voting format that allowed fans to pick three “frontcourt” players instead of two forwards and one center. Howard responded last month by creating a two-minute YouTube spoof called “Save the Centers.”

“I was upset they took centers off the ballot,” he said Thursday. “I didn’t think it was fair for the rest of the centers. There’s a center on every team.”

It wasn’t overly surprising that Bryant made the team as a starter — he was seen posing in a red All-Star jersey last week while being officially photographed at the Lakers’ training facility for next month’s event.

Bryant had a league-high 1.59 million votes, edging out LeBron James (1.58 million) and setting a record with his 15th consecutive All-Star nod, breaking a tie with Jerry West, O’Neal and Karl Malone.

Bryant was not an All-Star selection as a rookie in 1997. There was no game in 1999 because of a lockout.

The other Western Conference starters are Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. The East starters are James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett.

The All-Star game is Feb. 17 in Houston. The reserves will be selected Thursday via NBA coaches’ vote.

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.