Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences


Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences

With at least a 30-game sample size to evaluate the play of the leagues elite talents, as well as the NBA announcing the latest results of voter balloting Thursday, now is as a good a time as ever to start predicting who could play in Februarys All-Star Game.

Barring injury, the fans control who will start the annual contest currently, Bostons Rajon Rondo and Miamis Dwyane Wade comprise the Eastern Conferences backcourt, with New Yorks Carmelo Anthony, the Heats LeBron James and Kevin Garnett of the Celtics making up the frontcourt, while the West is dominated by players in Los Angeles, as Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant is joined by the Clippers duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, along with Lakers tandem Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant as top vote-getters but the coaches select the reserves in both conferences.

In the East, a case has already been made in this space for Luol Deng to make his second All-Star appearance, with Bulls teammate Joakim Noah making the trip to Houston with him for his first crack at the annual game. However, it gets a bit murky after that.

RELATED: Deng, Noah making early cases for All-Star consideration

New Yorks Tyson Chandler should be a lock, given the Knicks record and his impact on their defense and overall interior game, which would probably push Clevelands Anderson Varejao, despite his gaudy numbers, out of the equation, as its highly unlikely that three true centers, regardless of their versatility, will come off the bench, especially considering their similar defensive-oriented games.

Miamis Chris Bosh, more of a natural power forward, is another shoo-in and while he doesnt have a lot of name recognition nationally, so is emerging Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday. That leaves three spots remaining.

With the success of the Hawks, Josh Smith should finally get the nod after getting snubbed last season and because of the lack of great guard play in the East this season Derrick Rose being sidelined doesnt help it says here that second-year Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving makes his first appearance, partially to compensate for Varejaos probable absence, but also because of backlash, conscious or not, toward Brooklyns Deron Williams, whos had a subpar campaign and is now deemed a coach killer following ex-Nets head coach Avery Johnsons dismissal after Jerry Sloans dismissal in Utah coincided with his reported behind-the-scenes grousing.

For the final spot, if not Williams, maybe one of Milwaukees undersized scorers Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis makes an inaugural appearance, though Bostons Paul Pierce could garner a lifetime-achievement spot. As muddled as the East is, the West is no easier.

Assuming Jeremy Lin isnt voted in the Rockets point guards popularity in China cant be discounted, after Yao Ming, before truly blossoming as a player, made the All-Star team early in his career over Paul, the Clippers league MVP candidate who holds a semi-tenuous lead at the moment, his Houston teammate, James Harden, as well as fellow Southwest Division guards Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and San Antonios Tony Parker, will probably make the team.

Golden States Stephen Curry has been tremendous for the surprising Warriors and even with all of the talented big men in the West, its tough to name a more deserving guard in the conference, aside from the aforementioned named players.

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At the moment, its also hard to make an argument against Tim Duncan of the Spurs, as the future Hall of Famer is having a bit of a renaissance year and San Antonio is winning, as always. The same goes for Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies, the leagues double-double champ and a big reason Memphis appears to some observers to be a legit NBA Finals contender.

After that is where it gets tricky, but for the final spot in the West, another Warrior, David Lee, looks like he fits the bill, as hes finally putting up meaningful numbers now that Golden State is winning games.

One could make cases for other big men such as Oklahoma Citys Serge Ibaka (not enough of a consistent factor offensively), Minnesotas Kevin Love (missed too much time with injuries), Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge (lack of team success), Memphis Marc Gasol (hard to justify two teammates being on the All-Star team when theyre both big men, unless one is voted on by the fans or the team is just that dominant) and Houstons Omer Asik (like Ibaka, not yet a nightly scoring threat and the Rockets are still just a fringe playoff team) but the oft-maligned power forward is having an individually successful campaign on a winner.

Theres room for debate and still plenty of time before everything is settled, but heres an early look at how things might shake out. Obviously some people wont agree, but as the old adage goes, thats why they play the games.

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Observations from Bulls' blowout loss to Warriors: Curry, Bell, records and a road-weary Markkanen

Don’t tug on Curry’s cape: There’s an old saying in the NBA: “Send a limo for (insert player here) to the game tonight. I want to make sure he arrives safely.”

Translation: I’m gonna light him up tonight.

That’s what two-time MVP Stephen Curry did to Kris Dunn in the second quarter Friday, when a slim lead turned into a huge, expected deficit for the Bulls. Curry scored 26 of his game-high 33 points in the quarter, complete with heat checks and celebratory struts that have become commonplace with Curry’s performances.

Whether it was backdoor layups or 30-footers, Curry made Oracle Arena his playground—and Dunn his victim in what could best be described as an old-school baptism Dunn isn’t sure to forget.

Dunn likely set off Curry’s ire with Curry drawing two quick fouls in the first quarter and some aggressive physical defense that is traditionally the book on Curry, if there is such a book.

But when Curry returned in the second quarter, he took advantage of the ultimate green light as All-Star teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were out. He performed his theatrics with relative ease, hitting four of 11 triples and shooting 10 of 18 overall in just 27 minutes of work.

It wasn’t just Curry, as Klay Thompson was even more efficient, scoring 29 on 12 of 17 shootng and hitting five of his nine triples. Nick Young was seven of 12 in 19 minutes for 17 points as the Warriors shot 58 percent and committed just 11 turnovers.

Curry, who can give them away at times, only had two turnovers and it helped lead to an easy win.

“You try to make it a little more difficult,” Dunn said. “He’s a phenomenal shooter, everybody knows that. Once he gets on a roll like that it’s hard but you’ve just got to make it difficult for him.”

Had it been necessary, Curry could’ve gone for a 60-point performance, having 31 at the half. Dunn, enduring a night he won’t sure forget, scored six points with four assists on two of 11 shooting in 25 minutes.

“The turnovers, the lack of awareness,” Hoiberg said. “It is hopefully something he’ll grow from and learn from and find a way to fight through when he’s not playing well. Absolutely. You learn form the good things, learn from the bad things. There’s plenty of bad we can learn from tonight.”

The great ones go through baptisms, especially the point guards considering they’re on an island in this talent-rich stretch of the NBA. Dunn has a chance to be special on defense as he progresses through the years, but if Friday was any lesson, being able to give it back is probably the best remedy—because just taking his medicine can’t feel good.

The Bell rung

Whether it was a bored championship team finding an easy way to motivate itself or wanting to troll the Bulls for sport, the Warriors found an easy storyline to exploit in the insertion of rookie Jordan Bell.

It’s easy to remember the Bulls drafted Bell in the second round for the Warriors in exchange for $3.5 million to go into the Bulls coffers the night they decided to go with a full-scale rebuild.

Bell was rewarded with a start after inconsistent playing time in the absence of Green and made his presence felt from the moment his name was called in the introductions, with a “money sign” as a way to remind the team that drafted him of what it was missing.

"I just wanted to see how cash considerations was playing over there,” he said after the game.

He then proceeded to give the Bulls nightmares all over the floor with his athleticism and shot-blocking, swatting away six shots—including a chasedown block of Denzel Valentine everyone in Oracle Arena could see coming from the moment Valentine started his ground-bound trot downcourt.

It was likely something he’d been envisioning since Warriors coach Steve Kerr told Bell he would be starting two days ago.

“At first I was thinking of things to troll the other team but as I got closer to the game, I was like let me focus on the game,” Bell said. “Then when I saw we won the game, I started trolling a little bit.”
Before the trolling, there was the teasing in the form of production. The eye-popping alley-oop from Zaza Pachulia and even the wild play of fouling Justin Holiday on a corner jumper that almost looked violent.

He was clearly pumped for the opportunity to play against a team that didn’t give him a second thought and his veteran teammates took every opportunity to press his buttons.

“I remember Klay said something, like they don’t want you JB,” he said. “Everybody kept reminding me of it today.”

And it will be a topic of conversation for the immediate future, especially as the Bulls are in the search for young, athletic talent they can build around.

One for the books

The 49-point drubbing was third-worst in franchise history and the Bulls are now the owners of the NBA’s worst record at 3-14, along with having the worst point differential at -12.9 points per game.

The second and third quarters were embarrassing, as the Warriors outscored the Bulls 81-34 in easy fashion. Usually in those occurrences, Hoiberg will make an opening statement to the media about the effort lacking before taking questions.

Friday was no different.

“From Day 1, going back into September, the biggest thing we talked about as a team was fighting through the tough times, handling adversity. Well…we went out and had a great start. Actually had a lead after the first quarter. They go on a run and we’ve seen this before, we put our heads down, we don’t’ fight through it, we start separating and lose trust in each other. That can’t continue to happen. We gotta find a way to battle through the tough times. Quit putting our heads down, find a way to toughen up and stay in the game.”

Hoiberg was asked what kind of effect this can have on a team if these type of beatdowns continue and he didn’t mince words—a shift of sorts from his usual straight-faced demeanor.

“Tonight, they got it going, we didn’t handle it well,” he said. “We stopped getting back. They were getting whatever they wanted. You’ve got to find a way to fight through that. If we don’t learn that soon, we’re going to keep getting our asses kicked.”

Robin Lopez said it’s a collective issue and one that needs to be fixed. Perhaps in a clear moment of self-awareness, Dunn said he can see when the Bulls stop competing.

“You can definitely see it. I think it’s the youth,” Dunn said. “We’re not used to that. In the NBA, people can put up points very quickly. It comes with the territory.”

He’s still a rookie, folks

Lauri Markkanen showed some signs of the west-coast swing getting to him in the fatigue department, struggling in his third straight game Friday.

The Bulls have made it a priority to get Markkanen better shots and cleaner opportunities but they were in short order as he was four of 16 from the field in 27 minutes.

There wasn’t much quality to go around anyways as the Bulls shot 35 percent and fell behind by as many as 49. After scoring 26 with 13 rebounds against Phoenix last Sunday, he’s averaged 10 points on nine of 42 shooting (21 percent).

“Today they didn’t fall in the second half—actually, in the first half either,” Markkanen said. “I’ve just got to work more. I’ve had a couple nights now where I don’t make shots. But I did have good looks, though, they just didn’t fall tonight.”

Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?


Did Steve Kerr troll the Bulls?

With Kevin Durant (ankle) and Draymond Green (rest) out, the Golden State Warriors had two starting forward positions open for Friday's game against the Bulls.

One of the two starters who replaced them? Jordan Bell. Does his name ring one, too?

Selected by the Bulls with the 38th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bell was eventually traded to the Warriors in exchange for cash considerations.

The Oregon product hasn't played much this season for the defending champs, averaging just 3.2 points and 8.3 minutes in 12 games, but he made his first career start against ... his "former" team. Coincidence?

Warriors coach Steve Kerr (jokingly) explained why he gave the 22-year-old rookie the nod in the lineup.

Prior to the game, Bell also had this to say about his trade:

Bell couldn't have played better in his first career start. In 26 minutes, he recorded seven points, six rebounds, six blocks and four assists in a 143-94 Warriors win over the Bulls at Oracle Arena.