Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings is on the bubble to make the NBA's Eastern Conference All-Star team, and he isn't alone. The competition for the seven East reserve openings is as deep as it's been in years. With a shortened, compacted schedule, the Boston Celtics struggling early in the season and the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers using balanced rosters to climb up the East standings, there's no shortage of All-Star candidates this season.
Coaches from each conference had to turn in their votes for the All-Star reserves by Tuesday. There could be a few surprises when the rosters are announced at 7 p.m. ET Thursday.
"I'd probably have tears of joy if I did make it," Jennings said.
Jennings is the third-leading scorer among East point guards, averaging 18.9 points to trail the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose and New Jersey Nets' Deron Williams. Jennings also recently led the Bucks to wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat and has kept Milwaukee in playoff contention despite the absence of injured center Andrew Bogut.
While Jennings has a solid candidacy, he knows he's facing stiff competition.
"Derrick Rose is a starter for sure," Jennings said. "[Rajon] Rondo and Deron Williams are the other two point guards that are really big in the East. It's not easy, just like if I was in the Western Conference with Chris Paul and Steve Nash, Tony Parker and people like that."
In the Western Conference, Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook look like the only players who are assured reserve spots on the All-Star team. It's even more wide open in the East with Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh appearing to be the only lock. That leaves four openings on the West team and six on the East.
Here's Yahoo! Sports' prediction for some of the bubble candidates.
Boston Celtics: Rondo has missed eight games with injuries, which is keeping him from being a lock. Still, his all-around contributions resonate with the East coaches and should get him picked. Paul Pierce struggled with a heel injury early in the season, but has looked like an All-Star in recent weeks. Kevin Garnett's string of 12 straight All-Star appearances looks to be coming to an end. He's averaging his fewest points and rebounds since he was a rookie. Ray Allen's complementary role – and the Celtics' early struggles – will work against him. Prediction: Rondo and Pierce in; Garnett and Allen out.
Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng: Despite his recent injury problems, Deng has been a solid No. 2 scorer for one of the NBA's top teams – and is averaging career highs in rebounds and steals. While Carlos Boozer will also get some consideration, Deng is the Bulls' best bet for a second All-Star. Don't expect him to get snubbed again. Prediction: In.
Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson and forward Josh Smith: The Hawks seemed poised to get two All-Stars before a recent slide that could hurt their chances. While Smith is deserving, Johnson is the Hawks' leading scorer and is a perennial All-Star. Prediction: Johnson in; Smith out.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving: Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio has made a big impact with his play, but Irving's been the top rookie so far while making the Cavs respectable again. Irving is averaging 18.1 points, five assists and 3.4 rebounds and made big shots to beat the Dallas Mavericks and Celtics. But he missed Wednesday's game with a concussion and the stiff guard competition will likely limit him to playing in the rookie-sophomore game. Prediction: Out.
New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams: Williams is still scoring at a high rate (20.9 points per game) while averaging 8.6 assists, despite the Nets' lack of talent around him. New Jersey has just an 8-19 record, but Williams still ranks as one of the NBA's top point guards. Prediction: In.
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Philadelphia 76ers forward Andre Iguodala: Iguodala doesn't have a great scoring average (13 points per game), but he has impressive all-around numbers on one of the best teams in the East. Prediction: Out.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings: He's enjoying his best season, but the Bucks' losing record won't help him. Prediction: Out.
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert: Coaches are asked to pick a center, and there appears to be no better candidate than Hibbert, who is averaging career highs in points (13.7) and rebounds (9.9) and has the Pacers contending in the East. Prediction: In.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki: Yes, he's struggled and has even said he doesn't consider himself an All-Star this year. But he's also the reigning MVP of the NBA Finals and can still look like the league's best power forward, as he did in Wednesday's victory over the Denver Nuggets. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has called West coaches to campaign for Nowitzki. Prediction: In.
Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis: Ellis scored a career-high 48 points in Tuesday's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it came after the deadline for coaches to turn in their ballots. He's still one of the NBA's top scorers (22.6 points per game) and is also averaging a career-high 6.3 assists. But while this is Ellis' best All-Star bid, the Warriors are still losing. Prediction: Out.
Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash: While the Suns have a weak supporting cast around him, Nash has somehow found a way to lead the NBA in assists with 10 per game. He just turned 38, but the coaches still respect his game. Prediction: In.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol: After recovering from shoulder surgery, Gay has helped lead the Grizzlies while Zach Randolph recovers from a knee injury. If coaches follow the rules strictly and vote in a true center then Gasol could get the nod, but that doesn't always happen. Prediction: Gay and Gasol out.
San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan and guard Tony Parker: Coaches love Duncan, which is why he made last season's All-Star team despite modest stats. It might be a stretch to think they'll vote him in again. Parker has helped the Spurs maintain one of the West's best records while Manu Ginobili has been sidelined. His 42-point performance in a win over the Thunder should help his case. Prediction: Duncan out; Parker in.
Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap: Millsap has deserving numbers, but there's too much competition at the forward position. He could be an injury replacement if another player gets hurt. Prediction: Out.
Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson: The Nuggets looked like one of the NBA's best teams until injuries caught up to them. Lawson's numbers (15.5 points and 6.5 assists per game) are credible, but it won't be enough to get him to Orlando. The same goes for Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry, who is averaging 14.8 points, 7.9 assists and 5.8 rebounds before hurting his right elbow Wednesday night. Prediction: Out.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol: Every year, coaches list one power forward as a center to ensure he gets put on the All-Star team. This year, it could be Gasol, who would give the Lakers three All-Stars despite their disappointing record. Prediction: In.
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