Popovich says Duncan will start All-Star game

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CHICAGO (AP) - The Western Conference needs a starting center for the All-Star game in Los Angeles, and Gregg Popovich says he knows the perfect person for the job.

The San Antonio coach selected Spurs star Tim Duncan to replace Yao Ming in the lineup for Sunday’s game at Staples Center, staying in his own locker room instead of picking Clippers star Blake Griffin playing in his home arena or Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love.

“I think it’s totally appropriate and obvious that he should be the starter,” Popovich said before the Spurs faced the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night. “I don’t have any problem with it.”

Griffin, Love and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki all have better numbers than Duncan, who is averaging a career-low 13.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. But San Antonio (46-9) carried the NBA’s best record into the matchup with the Bulls and the Spurs are closely monitoring the 34-year-old Duncan’s minutes, a factor in the lower averages.

Houston center Yao was voted in by the fans but is injured.

This will be Duncan’s 12th consecutive All-Star start and his 13th appearance overall. He was the co-MVP of the 2000 game with Shaquille O’Neal and is one of five active players with at least 10 All-Star appearances.

Guard Manu Ginobili also is going to Los Angeles to represent San Antonio.

Duncan’s insertion into the starting lineup may be the biggest All-Star decision for Popovich, who said he is planning on doing no coaching during the game.

“Just thinking about walking into that locker room is a humbling and awesome experience,” he said. “Just to know you’re in the same room with those kinds of players, the best on the planet, it almost makes you want to laugh. You really have to pinch yourself to know that you’re in that room, and I think it would be quite forward on my part to try to coach those guys.”

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