Bulls

First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

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First-time All-Star Deng appreciative of honor

CHARLOTTE Just sat there like its a regular thing, said Luol Deng, though his smirk betrayed his even tone. It happens every day.

Never one to be consumed with individual accolades, Deng said all the right things about debut All-Star Game selection, deflecting the credit to his teammates and coaches, reasoning that it just wasnt his time in past seasons. But all along, it was obvious that he was nearly bursting at the seams with pride.

Its a great honor. Im really happy. Its good to see. I dont really have the words for it, except the fact that Im really happy. I just want to go around and thank all my teammates because of the way were playing and the record we have is why Im getting the opportunity, he explained prior to the Bulls Friday-morning shootaround at Time Warner Cable Arena. I think you get a certain feeling that youre going to make it. I had a feeling, I dont know why. I was still surprised to see it. Youre sitting there, youre watching it and youre just kind of relieved a little bit that you made it. But this year kind of felt different going into it. I think theres a few years that Ive watched it that I thought that I might get in, but this year, for some reason, I just thought it was going to happen.

Honestly and I dont want to go too much into it; dont get me wrong, its an honor and its a great accomplishment theres years in the past, where I felt like I played like an All-Star, but maybe some guys had a better year that year and made it over me. Its good to see. Its really been an up-and-down kind of career and to be there, a lot of people would see it as your best year. Thats just the way people see it because of the credit that you gain and I really think Im having a great year. I think its one of the best years that I had.

Statistically, that might not be the case, as Deng has put up gaudier numbers than he has this campaign. But now, with the Bulls recognized as a true title contender, while much of the spotlight falls on reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, Deng is finally getting the appreciation he deserves.

Its a great honor for him. Hes certainly earned it, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau who might be joining Deng and Rose in Orlando for the event, though he typically downplayed that notion, saying, I dont even think about it. Im just thinking about us being ready to play Charlotte when asked about the possibility. I thought it would happen. The one thing about Lu, if you really look at his career, I think each year that hes been in the league, hes gotten better and better, and I think thats a sign of how serious he is, how he approaches the game and hes obviously a very well-rounded player. Theres not anything that he doesnt do well and obviously hes very significant for us, in terms of us winning.

I think that he certainly had a great year last year. I think this year he picked up right where he left off. If you look at his entire career, each year hes gotten better and better, so his experience, the way he studies, the way he prepares for each season, it lends itself to improvement and hes one of those guys who I think will continually get better throughout his career, and for us hes invaluable. Theres so many intangibles that he brings to our team unselfishness, hard work, cares about nothing but winning and how he can help and hes a great teammate, hes very coachable and theres nothing that he doesnt do well. He plays great defense, he moves without the ball, he shares the ball, he can hit threes, he can put in on the floor, he slashes, he can post. But its his leadership, its the way he approaches things every day, the example he sets. You cant say enough about him, he went on to say. Its great. I think its a byproduct of winning. We have a couple other guys who are deserving, as well, and hopefully the more you win, the more recognition the team receives.

Added Deng himself: It depends, really, from who. It depends who youre talking about. I think, to be a coach in this league, youve got to know the game and I think everyone has their own opinion. Coaches select every year and I think coaches appreciate what I do, and the way I play. I think maybe in the past years, whether its team record or some other guys had a better year, maybe thats the reason Im left out, but I always get a lot of compliments and talking to a lot of coaches around the league who appreciate the way I play, and to me, my coaching staff, my teammates and those who know the game, I think they see it. Im not so much caught up in people who dont know the game, who just want to see the flashiness.

Deng joked that he wouldnt reveal when or how he learned of the honor he said he found out from watching it on television, like everybody else, though people he trusted, wouldnt really joke about certain things if they dont know, indicated he would make the East team as well as his immediate reaction to it, but after raising his expectations in previous seasons only to be disappointed, he now finds himself having to figure out what to do while in Orlando, as he hasnt participated in an All-Star event since the second season of his career, when he played in the Rookie-Sophomore Game.

I think Im going to talk to Derrick about that, honestly. Since my rookie year, my sophomore year, which is way different, I dont know what youre supposed to do, I dont know how it goes, quipped Deng, who also joked that hopefully I wont get a breakaway layup, as hes not known for the high-flying aerial acrobatics that fans have come to expect in All-Star contests. Its the honest truth. I really dont know. Ill find out the schedule. Am I supposed to play D? I dont know. Well just see how it goes.

One thing is for sure: Deng, if Thibodeau is indeed coaching, is unlikely to play the high-minute totals he does for the Bulls.

I doubt it, he laughed. Coach is big on rest, so well use that right.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”