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.

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

Michael Jordan's Greatest Moments: 5-1

This is part of a four-part series looking back at the historic career of Michael Jordan and the legacy he left on the game of basketball. It all leads up to Saturday when we unveil his top 5 moments on his 55th birthday. Here are 55-4544-23, and 22-6.

5. Jordan wins fourth title and finishes greatest individual season ever, June 16, 1996

It’s hard to comprehend just how much Jordan accomplished during the 1995-96 season. We’ll try:He won his fourth championship, was named NBA Finals MVP for a record fourth time, won All-Star Game MVP, won a record 72 games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team, was the league’s leading scorer and became the Bulls’ all-time leader in games played. So when he dropped a casual 22 points in Game 6, it marked the end of one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Oh, and Space Jam came out a few months later.
 
4. Jordan hits six triples, scores 35 points in first half against Blazers, June 3, 1992

During the 1991-92 regular season, Jordan never made more than three 3-pointers in a single game. In fact, the most 3-pointers he had in any two-game stretch that year was four. So when he began burying triple after triple in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, even Jordan couldn’t believe it, giving a shrug toward the NBC announcers as if to say, “I don’t know, either.” Jordan finished the first half with six triples and scored an NBA-record 35 points. The Bulls cruised in the second half, so Jordan finished with only 39, but his shrug remains one of the most iconic NBA Finals moments in history.
 
3. Jordan battles the flu, scores 38 in Game 5 on his way to fifth title, June 11, 1997

The Flu Game. Jordan was battling a nasty illness in the lead-up to a pivotal Game 5 in Utah, and there were concerns about whether he would even suit up. Hours before tip Jordan got out of bed and made his way to the arena, looking to halt Utah’s momentum after it had taken Games 3 and 4 to tie the series. The Jazz came out red-hot while Jordan looked sluggish, but he responded with 17 points in the second quarter alone to give the Bulls a halftime lead. Jordan then keyed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to erase a Jazz lead, and he hit a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. The Bulls hung on, and Jordan collapsed into Scottie Pippen’s arms walking off the floor. His final line? 38 points, 13 of 27 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Two days later the Bulls won the title in front of a sellout Chicago crowd.

2. Jordan scores 63 points against Celtics in playoff loss, April 20, 1986

Jordan had just turned 23 years old when he took to the Boston Garden floor to face Larry Bird in his prime and the Celtics. These Celtics had gone 40-1 at home, led the NBA in field goal percentage defense, started FOUR future Hall of Famers and had a fifth come off the bench. They would ultimately go down as one of the all-time greatest teams, and Jordan made them look absolutely silly. He played 50 minutes in the double-overtime thriller, shooting 22 of 41 from the field and making 19 of 21 free throws, including the last two with no time on the clock and the Bulls trailing by two at the end of regulation. He scored 54 in regulation, added five in the first overtime and four in the second. He also led the Bulls with six assists. It still stands as the NBA record for most points in any playoff game. Twenty-three years old. Twenty. Three.

1. Jordan scores 45 in final game with the Bulls, securing sixth championship, June 14, 1998

Jordan’s final game with the Bulls was iconic. Like so many of these moments, die hards know exactly where they were. The 45 points were majestic, and while he only had one rebound and one assist he affected just about every possession on both ends. But what we’ll remember most is the final 37 seconds. Jordan drove to the basket for layup that cut Utah’s lead to one, then stripped Karl Malone from behind on the next trip down. That gave the ball back to the Bulls with 20 seconds left. Jordan let the clock tick down to around 9 seconds before making his move from the left wing, driving right on Bryon Russell, (maybe pushing off) and pulling up for a jumper at the foul line. The shot was good with 5.2 seconds remaining, and John Stockton’s ensuing 3-pointer was off the mark. It gave Jordan and the Bulls their sixth NBA title, and marked the perfect ending to his Bulls career: getting it done on both ends, in the clutch, and finishing with a victory. Because it encapsulated so much of his 14-year career in Chicago, it’s our top Michael Jordan moment.

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn have moments in highlight-filled rising stars challenge

LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.

Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.

It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).

Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.

Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.

Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.

However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment

“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.

Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.

When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.

His reasoning was simple.

“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.

Half-jokingly.

“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.

Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.

Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.

Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.

“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.

It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.

“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”