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Mavs' Pachulia thankful just to come close to All-Star starting spot

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia led a late charge in Western Conference All-Star balloting, but came up just short of a starting spot in results announced Thursday night.

How short? About the population of a small town. Only 14,227 votes separated Pachulia from Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs for the third frontcourt position. What's more, if the old rules of electing centers and forwards separately had still been in place, Pachulia would be starting in Toronto on Feb. 18 as he was tops in voting as a true five.

"What I'm thankful is that fans, without me asking anybody, they took it to this level. I was so close," Pachulia told ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "It's just an amazing feeling. I feel loved. That's more important to me than being an All-Star, honestly. It's not easy to be an All-Star, but it's even more difficult to be loved by so many people and have so many people have your back."

Both Leonard and Pachulia leapfrogged Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, who was in third place as of the last voting update on Jan. 14. Pachulia actually jumped from eighth one week ago to fourth.

Pachulia's rise can be attributed in part to viral growth, which included a musical endorsement from, of all people, Wyclef Jean. Voting from his home country of Georgia may have also helped.

"Man, my country is amazing," Pachulia said. "It feels so great to be loved by this many people. That's what I care about the most, and that's why I'm so happy."

While the 31-year-old's numbers have never jumped out at anyone, the journeyman has been a solid contributor throughout his 13-year career.

In his first season in Dallas, Pachulia is averaging a double-double at 10.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Picked up by the Mavs as a sort of consolation prize after the DeAndre Jordan failure, Pachulia has been instrumental in the Mavs' surprising record. As coach Rick Carlisle put it earlier this season, "Our guy is a 90 percent free-throw shooter. And we love him."

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