Bulls

Deng worthy of All-Star spot

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Deng worthy of All-Star spot

NBA All-Star reserves will officially be announced at 6 p.m. on Thursday, but we thought wed get a jump on things with a look players are most deserving. The coaches generally do a pretty good job of picking the reserves, but even they are subject to overvaluing past performance, and not selecting the players who are doing the most for their teams this season. Remember, coaches are asked to vote for two guards, two forwards, one center and two wild card selections (any position).

So, with that in mind, here are my choices for the All-Star reserves.

Eastern Conference

Forwards: Luol Deng and Chris Bosh. Okay, maybe a little homer-ism is involved in picking Deng, but hes one of the most versatile small forwards in the league, and is asked to do more on both ends than just about other player. Deng stays on the floor with the reserves at the start of the second quarter, helping that unit function smoothly on the offensive end. Hes also asked to guard the other teams best perimeter player, and hes always among the league leaders in minutes played (even after returning from a serious wrist injury).

As for Bosh, hes quietly having a very efficient second season in Miami, with his scoring up due to the early season injuries suffered by Dwyane Wade. Miami is using LeBron James more on the block, allowing Bosh to settle into his more comfortable role as a perimeter shooter.

Guards: Rajon Rondo and Joe Johnson. Rondo missed a number of games with a wrist injury, but hes still the engine that makes the Celtics go. Boston has taken off since his return, and the Cs are at their best with Rondo playing aggressively on the defensive end and pushing the ball in transition. As for Johnson, 20 million dollars doesnt get what it used to, but hes still the top scorer on a good Atlanta team and worthy of another All-Star selection.

Center: Roy Hibbert. Admittedly, not a lot of great options for the back-up spot, and its possible league coaches will be allowed to make Bosh the second All-Star center, opening up a spot for another deserving player. But take a look around the East and you find Al Horford, Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut are all out with injuries, and Joakim Noah got off to a very slow start with the Bulls. So who else are you going to take, Detroits Greg Monroe? Hibbert is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds a game, and the Pacers definitely deserve to have all All-Star.

Wild Cards: Paul Pierce and Kyrie Irving. Pierce got off to a very slow start this season, looking like he wasnt in great shape after the long lockout. But now that hes back in game shape, hes still one of the best late game scorers in the league, and figures to play a big role in whatever success Boston has down the stretch. It was a tough selection for that final roster spot with players like Deron Williams, Danny Granger, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Brandon Jennings and Lou Williams worthy of consideration, but Im going with Irving. Hes led the Cavs back to respectability, averaging 18 points and five assists a game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Irving is fearless attacking the basket, and when he gets better talent around him, he should be recognized as one of the top point guards in the East.

Western Conference

Forwards: Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. Love slimmed down during the off-season, making him an even more versatile offensive player, and he continues to be one of the leagues elite rebounders. Minnesota is now relevant again, and Love deserves most of the credit. As for Aldridge, remember when the Bulls drafted him No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft and traded him for the rights to Tyrus Thomas? I know it was a pre-arranged deal, but dont you think John Paxson would like to have that one over again? Then again, if the Bulls had selected Aldridge, they probably wouldnt have missed the playoffs in 2008, and never would have had the chance to draft Derrick Rose, so, never mind!

Guards: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. If you havent seen a lot of the Thunder in action, Westbrook is one of the most dynamic scoring point guards in the game. Sometimes he forgets to get the ball to Kevin Durant, but as a scorer, Westbrook is something else. Martin has quietly carved out his niche as a 20-plus points per game scorer, year in and year out. He and Kyle Lowry have teamed up to form a dangerous backcourt in Houston, keeping the Rockets in the playoff hunt in the always competitive West.

Center: Al Jefferson. This was probably the toughest choice, since Jeffersons numbers are comparable to other Western Conference centers like Marc Gasol and Nene, but Utah has no right to be in the playoff race, and yet, somehow they are. The play of Jefferson is a big reason, along with his frontcourt running mate, Paul Millsap. The Jazz should be represented at the All-Star game, and Im going with Jefferson by a hair over Millsap.

Wild Cards: Tony Parker and Rudy Gay. Parker definitely deserves a spot on the team, keeping San Antonio among the top teams in the West despite the injury to Manu Ginobili and the reduced role for Tim Duncan. The last spot was the toughest with players like Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, Marc Gasol, Nene, Danilo Gallinari, Millsap and Pau Gasol worthy of consideration. But Gay has taken on more scoring responsibility with the injury to Zach Randolph, and hes helped the Grizzlies stay in playoff contention.

Okay, so what do you think? Will the Eastern Conference coaches give Deng a spot, or will the wrist injury cost him votes? Remember, Tom Thibodeau will coach the Eastern Conference team if the Bulls have the best record on February 15, and if Deng doesnt make the original 12 man squad, he figures to be the first alternate if an injury replacement is needed before the February 26 game in Orlando. Thibs will be calling David Stern 247 to get Luol a spot on the team.

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

Zach LaVine not daunted by chasing ‘Black Jesus’

The statue doesn’t sit out front of the United Center anymore, but the statute remains the same for any player good enough to be on the marquee for the Chicago Bulls.

Zach LaVine, while awed by the specter of Michael Jordan, isn’t spooked by chasing a ghost. Weeks away from a debut as a Bull—returning from ACL surgery—LaVine is aware of the standard set by the man who called himself “Black Jesus”.

“Black Jesus played here for so long. I’m not putting myself in that category,” LaVine said, unaware Jordan gave himself that nickname as a young player in Chicago. “He lived up to it. They (fans) want to get back to that pinnacle.”

He hears the hopes and wishes of fans when he walks off the United Center floor two hours before every home game after getting shots up as part of his rehab. LaVine knows what’s expected from him—what’s more, he expects that from himself.

He’s a two-time slam dunk champion, certainly, but the Seattle area native wants to be known as a complete player, someone a franchise can build around.

And if it’s Black Jesus’ franchise, so be it.

“You try not to let it mess with you,” LaVine said. “I feel like I’m strong minded, I’m confident in myself. Everybody is gonna have their own opinions. All that matters is how you feel about yourself.”

Not that he’s not holding himself to the standard set by the standard bearer himself, but he’s aware the responsibility that comes with playing at Jordan’s position for a franchise still largely synonymous with Jordan—even though this spring will mark 20 years since Jordan actually wore Bulls red.

“No one’s trying to compare you to him, that’s out there,” LaVine said. “You’re just trying to be the best you, coming into this situation. You have the opportunity to be the face of the franchise. To be that guy. You want to embrace that. You want everybody to know you’re prepared and capable of doing that.”

Simply being identified as a player a franchise will commit to building around as opposed to the third wheel, as he was believed to be in Minnesota behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, is warming for him.

Derrick Rose believed he was up for the challenge until his body betrayed him. Jimmy Butler wanted it, but the Bulls thought otherwise leading to the chain of events that brought LaVine to Chicago.

In the first season of a full-fledged rebuild, LaVine knows the prevailing belief is that the next franchise carrier is more likely in the coming draft than on the Bulls roster.

“People gonna put a name on everything. I’m gonna hoop, do what I do,” LaVine said. “I know I’m talented, I think the Bulls organization knows I’m talented. Whatever we do with the pick or free agency, that’s their side of basketball operations. I’m gonna do what I do. I put in the work.”

He’ll return to full contact practice next week and if one had to guess, finally be introduced as an active player in the middle of December once he works the kinks out and gains confidence in taking real contact.

But then again, confidence has never been a problem for LaVine. Whether it was instilled in him by a vocal father who had him chart every shot he took as a high schooler or simply innate, LaVine isn’t shying away from the challenge.

“He had a plan, for sure,” LaVine said of his father, Paul, who once played linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. “I have binders of shots. I was doing workouts the day before games. I was doing professional workouts before (college). I embraced being a hard worker.”

Whether it’s the rehab or a road that’s had plenty of twists and turns for him to be 22, he’s experienced enough not to be naïve but young enough to have admirable wide-eyed optimism.

“You put in that much hard work, it can’t fail. It can’t.”

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

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USA TODAY

The Bulls first quarter was historically terrible

Rebuilds can be ugly, but the first quarter of Wednesday's Bulls-Thunder game was downright disgusting. 

The Bulls scored single digits(!) in the historically awful opening 12 minutes. Here's a closer look at the numbers: 

7 - Amount of points scored. That's the worst opening quarter in franchise history and just one point better than the worst overall quarter. 

8 - Number of turnovers, which included three shot clock violations. 

13 - The Bulls shot 13 percent from the field. Woof. 

2 - Consecutive games Fred Hoiberg's squad has trailed by 20 after the first. 

3 - Carmelo Anthony outscored the Bulls by three points in the opening quarter (10-7). 

It's safe to assume that the lineup of Jerian Grant, Kris Dunn, Quincy Pondexter, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez was not ready to play.