Kevin Love is an All-Star game starter, and it happened in surprising fashion.
Trailing by nearly 18,000 votes two weeks ago for a spot in the Western Conference starting lineup, the Minnesota Timberwolves forward made a late push in the fan vote to earn an All-Star starting nod for the first time in his career.
Love's last-minute ascension resulted in him beating out Dwight Howard for one of three frontcourt spots in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Love knew there was still a chance he could be named a starter, but he wasn't expecting it. So when Wolves president of basketball of operations Flip Saunders came to his hotel room Thursday afternoon in San Francisco, where the Wolves are staying during their current road trip, Love was taken aback by the news.
"I was in disbelief up until it came across the screen that I was going to be a starter and the NBA tweeted it," Love said during a teleconference Thursday night.
"As a kid you obviously dream of being in the NBA, dream of being All-Star player. To be an All-Star starter, I keep using the word surreal. It hasn't quite set in yet, but at the same time I still have a whole lot of work to do."
When the NBA announced its final ballot update on Jan. 9, Love was behind Griffin by 17,933 votes and Howard by 26,000. In the last two weeks of voting, Griffin and Love both leapfrogged Howard. Love made it with 661,246 votes -- thanks to a late push of about 178,000 votes.
This will be Love's third All-Star game appearance, having played as a reserve in 2011 and 2012. He is also the first Wolves player to make the All-Star starting lineup since Kevin Garnett did so in 2007.
While this isn't Love's first All-Star go-around, getting pegged as a starter has left more of a profound impact on him.
"I think it's a little sweeter this way, because I really didn't expect it," Love said. "I was already really humbled by the response the fans gave for even being that close to the top."
There's no denying Love's All-Star status.
Love has softened memories of his injury-riddled 2012-13 season by forcefully rediscovering his knack for putting up eye-catching stat lines. He ranks fifth in the NBA in points (25 ppg), fourth in rebounds (13 rpg) and has a league-leading 35 double-doubles in 40 games.
"He's been terrific," coach Rick Adelman said about Love's All-Star qualifications. "He's played at a high level. He's had to make adjustments. We've struggled as a team, other teams are trying to take things out of his hands, so he can't get the opportunities. But he's been consistent, night-in and night-out. His rebounding is the same. His assist totals are up. He's done just about everything he could do for us."
In the Wolves' blowout victory of the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, Love surpassed the 4,000 career rebounds threshold that took him 327 games across five and a half seasons to reach. Only two other players have hit the 4,000 mark in fewer games in the last 29 years (Shaquille O'Neal, 319; Dikembe Mutombo, 323. Dwight Howard did so in 327 games as well)
As Adelman pointed out, Love's game has evolved. He entered this year with a 1.9 career assist average, with 184 assists in 2010-11 standing as his single season high. Love is already close to blowing by that mark (163 in 40 games). He is averaging 4.1 assists per game.
Love is joined in the Western Conference starting by fellow starters Kobe Bryant, who has been out for the majority of the season due to injury, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Griffin.
The All-Star reserves, which will be chosen by the coaches, are set to be announced on Jan. 30.
Western Conference starters
G Kobe Bryant (988,884 votes)
G Stephen Curry (1,047,281)
F Kevin Durant (1,396,294)
F Blake Griffin (688,466)
F Kevin Love (661,246)
Eastern Conference starters
G Dwayne Wade (929,542)
G Kyrie Irving (860,221)
F Lebron James (1,416,419)
F Paul George (1,211,318)
F Carmelo Anthony (935,702)