In the initial returns of the 2013 NBA All-Star Game balloting, Thunder forward and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant is the leading vote-getter among Western Conference frontcourt players.
Durant (605,985 votes) leads Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (434,168) and former Oklahoma standout Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers (307,855) at his position.
The Miami Heat's LeBron James is the leading overall vote-getter (641,348) and is followed by Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (639,419) and Durant.
West starters currently would be Bryant and Clippers point guard Chris Paul (353,603) at the guards, plus Durant, Howard and Griffin in the frontcourt. The center position was eliminated in this year's balloting and replaced by a third frontcourt player due to the lack of center candidates.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (143,437) stands fifth in West guard balloting behind the Houston Rockets backcourt of Jeremy Lin (298,319) and James Harden (196,108). OKC forward Serge Ibaka (68,285) is ninth in frontcourt balloting.
Starting for the East would be Miami guard Dwyane Wade (430,925) and Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (382,613), plus James, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (573,112) and Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett (218,246).
Balloting concludes Jan. 14 and starters will be announced Jan. 17. The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be held Feb. 17, 2013, at 7 p.m. at Toyota Center in Houston.
THE HIGH ROAD
Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin took the high road when asked about playing against the Houston Rockets, his former team, on Nov. 28. He's taking a longer high road for Friday's 7 p.m. game against his other previous team, the Sacramento Kings (7-14).
Martin played 2 1/2 seasons for Houston (2010-12) before being traded to the Thunder on Oct. 27 and categorized his first meeting against the Rockets as just another game.
As for facing Sacramento, where Martin spent his first 5 1/2 seasons in the league (2004-10)? “That's been ‘another game' for a long time,” a smiling Martin said after Thursday's practice.
The 29-year-old Martin played against the Kings seven times with the Rockets, averaging 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 34.0 minutes.
Martin said he will be thinking about today in OKC rather than yesteryear in Sacramento. “Just focus on the task at hand,” Martin said. “Realize the situation we're in right now and know we've got bigger goals at the end of the year.”
THUNDER TOPS POLL
The Thunder owns the league's best record at 18-4 record and is riding a nine-game winning streak. Both marks tied franchise records since the team's 2008 arrival in OKC.
In an ESPN.com SportsNation poll, the Thunder owns a commanding lead as the NBA's top-ranked team among online voters.
As of Thursday, the poll's Top 10 was: 1. Thunder; 2. New York Knicks; 3. San Antonio Spurs; 4. Miami Heat; 5. Memphis Grizzlies; 6. Los Angeles Clippers; 7. Atlanta Hawks; 8. Brooklyn Nets; 9. Chicago Bulls; 10. Boston Celtics.
OKC had received 2,024 first-place votes, which easily outdistanced the Spurs (818), Heat (778) and Knicks (683).
WHY NO THREE-PEAT?
The Thunder dominated the Hornets the previous two meetings this season, winning by an average of 18 points. What was different the third time around in which OKC scrapped out a 92-88 victory on Wednesday night?
“They did a good job on their pick-and-roll coverage,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained. “They put two guys on the basketball and made us make a quick decision and we missed some shots, we missed some layups, we missed some catches around the basket. They're going to be a good team. They're a young team that continues to get better as the season goes along.”
Sacramento power forward DeMarcus Cousins served a one-game suspension for striking Dallas guard O.J. Mayo in the groin area last Monday night.
Cousins (17.2 points; 9.9 rebounds; 1.4 steals) sat out of the Kings' 98-85 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday night, but will play against the Thunder on Friday.
Cousins claimed striking Mayo was unintentional, but Mayo thought otherwise and said: “That guy has some mental issues, man. He's a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of that organization, but I don't think he wants it. ... He's immature, man. Big maturity problem. Hopefully, he'll grow up out of it and become great. He definitely has the talent to.”