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Kobe piling up votes despite assault charge

NEW YORK -- Kobe Bryant tops the Western Conference in
voting for the NBA All-Star game, leading the Los Angeles Lakers in
scoring this season while his sexual assault case goes forward.

Bryant drew 577,505 votes in the fan vote for the Feb. 15 game
in Los Angeles. Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors led all players
with 696,652 votes.

The vote totals Thursday were the first released by the league.
Balloting continues through Jan. 18.

Bryant is averaging 21.8 points per game, helping the Lakers to
a league-best 18-3 start. The 6-foot-6 guard is charged with
attacking a woman in June at a Colorado resort. He has said the two
had consensual sex.

Bryant expressed his gratitude to the fans after practice
Thursday.

"They have a lot of love for what I do out there on the
basketball court, they appreciate my game and they're standing
behind me and my family," he said. "I think that says a lot, the
fact that they're standing by me right now and showing their
support through the voting. It says a lot about how they feel about
me as a person.

"Everybody in this industry is very supportive. I don't know if
that speaks to the masses, but it seems like everybody's
supportive," he said.

Other Western Conference leaders were Steve Francis of Houston
(286,515) at the other guard slot, Kevin Garnett of Minnesota
(539,280) and Tim Duncan of San Antonio (515,009) at the forwards,
and Shaquille O'Neal of the Lakers (534,380) at center.

Joining Carter as leaders in the Eastern Conference balloting
were Jermaine O'Neal of Indiana (542,673) at the other forward,
Allen Iverson of Philadelphia (566,713) and Tracy McGrady of
Orlando (417,529) at the guards, and Ben Wallace of Detroit
(597,959) at center.

Carter is averaging 22.9 points, five assists and 4.7 rebounds.

Carter hasn't played a complete season in three years because of
knee injuries. He said he's having the best season of his six-year
career.

"It's above and beyond them all. It's not because of scoring.
It's because of my ability to show the world what I can do
all-around. I just wanted to be a complete player, and do a lot of
things well," he said.

Carter was pleased to be leading in the voting.

"That's very encouraging. It's another reason why I took the
time this summer to let all my injuries heal and come back with a
vengeance," he said.