SALT LAKE CITY — Andris Biedrins has a chance to catch Yao Ming in the fan balloting that determines the Western Conference's starting center for this year's All-Star Game in Phoenix.
But that's only if the population of Latvia increases by about a billion or so people during the next three weeks.
Otherwise, this season, and every other season that Yao is in the NBA, Biedrins and other centers in the West will likely have to rely on being named a reserve to be included in the annual showcase event.
And this year, the 22-year-old Latvian is actually making a pretty good case. Biedrins is averaging 14.2 points and 11.9 rebounds through the Warriors' first 35 games. He has 20 double-doubles, most for any center in the Western Conference, and his 55.0 field goal percentage going into tonight's game at Utah ranks 10th in the NBA for all players.
The starters for the All-Star Game will be announced Jan. 22, with the seven reserves (two guards, two forwards, one center and two players of any position) named a week later.
Head coaches pick the reserves for their own conferences, and they are not allowed to vote for their own players.
"It means a lot already to have people even talking about me as a candidate," Biedrins said. "That's already a big accomplishment, and it's nice to hear people talking and saying that you're playing great."
Biedrins has at times been criticized by Warriors coach Don Nelson for his defensive
But Biedrins' scoring and rebounding numbers have increased every year. Last season he averaged 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds in 76 games, and was rewarded with a six-year deal worth a guaranteed $54 million in the offseason.
Biedrins' rebounding average is second only to the Clippers' Marcus Camby (13.2 rpg), and leads Jefferson (10.3), the Clippers' Chris Kaman (9.4) and Phoenix's Shaquille O'Neal (8.9). Also Biedrins is fifth in the West in scoring behind Jefferson (22.8), Yao (19.8), O'Neal (17.2) and Utah's Mehmet Okur (16.8).
Buoyed by support from his homeland, Yao leads all centers with more than 1.4 million votes so far for the All-Star Game, almost double O'Neal's total.
"It's going pretty well, I think," Biedrins said when asked if he's happy with the stats he's put up. "I had a really great start in the beginning, and now I'm just trying to play every game like I did at the beginning of the season."
Of course, it's tough for players on any team to get respect when they're far out of playoff contention. And it's especially tough when that team's resume includes losses to doormats Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
"It's unfortunate, sometimes, with the way the voting goes, that you almost have to come from a winning team," Warriors assistant coach Keith Smart said. "And unfortunately, we haven't had our (full) team. But of course, people look at the standings and see our record.
"If it doesn't (happen this season), he's a young player and at some point he's going to be one of those top four centers in the NBA, and definitely one of the top two or three in the West."
Notes: Forward Corey Maggette participated in another full practice Sunday at EnergySolutions Arena and may be cleared to play if he feels good this morning. Maggette has missed the Warriors' past 15 games with a strained right hamstring. "... After injuring his right leg during Saturday's practice in Minnesota, forward Rob Kurz practiced only briefly Sunday. It was later discovered that he had aggravated the iliotibial band. He was to be treated Sunday and will be re-evaluated today. "... Swingman Kelenna Azubuike missed practice with the flu. "... Forward Brandan Wright (sprained left wrist) also participated in practice and will be available.
Contact Curtis Pashelka at cpashelka@bayareanews group.com.