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Yao, Kobe among early All-Star vote leaders
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Yao Ming, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were among the leaders in the first balloting information for the 58th National Basketball Association All-Star Game released Thursday.

But it was Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the reigning NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion, who garnered the most votes of any player in the first hint at ballots favorites for starting roles in the February 15 game at Phoenix.

Howard had 775,933 votes to lead his nearest Eastern Conference rival, Samuel Dalembert of Philadelphia, by more than 659,000 votes.

Chinese star Yao of the Houston Rockets leads Western Conference centers with 529,290 votes to 227,273 for Phoenix's Shaquille O'Neal.

Cleveland forward James, this year's All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, ranks second in the Eastern Conference overall with 643,786 votes, the most among forward.

Kevin Garnett, who sparked Boston to last season's NBA title and this year's best record in the NBA, was next in the East on 495,514 with China's Yi Jianlian of the New Jersey Nets next at 356,556.

NBA scoring leader Dwyane Wade of Miami, averaging 29.5 points a game, led East guards at 623,311 with Detroit's Allen Iverson next at 492,093.

Bryant, seeking an 11th NBA All-Star Game appearance, led the Western Conference with 719,252 votes. The Los Angeles Lakers guard was the only player in the West to out-pull Yao in voting.

New Orleans playmaker Chris Paul was next for West guards on 406,220 with Houston's Tracy McGrady on 332,222 followed by San Antonio's Manu Ginobili of Argentina at 166,981, Dallas' Jason Kidd on 162,286, France's Tony Parker of San Antonio at 161,638 and Canada's Steve Nash of Phoenix at 142,410.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan led West forwards with 442,403 with Phoenix's Amare Stoudamire next on 370,470 followed by Denver's Carmelo Anthony on 327,233, German star Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas on 327,233 and Spanish star Pau Gasol of the Lakers on 260,374.

(Xinhua News Agency December 12, 2008)

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