- Associated Press - Friday, February 18, 2011

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 rookie 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’ 109-99 loss at Chicago 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 (46-10) has the NBA’s best record and the Spurs are closely monitoring the 34-year-old Duncan’s minutes, a factor in the lower averages.

Duncan didn’t know about his 12th consecutive All-Star start until he was asked about it after he had 14 points and nine boards against Chicago.

“I didn’t expect to be there this year and I definitely didn’t expect to start, so definitely a great honor,” he said. “I don’t know, year-in and year-out I continue to be on that starting squad. I really don’t know why I’m there but I’ll take it.”

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

This will be Duncan’s 13th All-Star appearance overall. He was the co-MVP of the 2000 game with Shaquille O’Neal.

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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