Bulls

But they're not the NBA's hottest team

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But they're not the NBA's hottest team

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Oklahoma City's biggest stars displayed a unique version of balanced scoring against Atlanta: Russell Westbrook led the Thunder in the first half and Kevin Durant dominated the Hawks over the final two quarters.Durant set a season high with 41 points and Oklahoma City held off Atlanta 100-92 on Wednesday night for its 12th straight win.Westbrook had 27 points -- 21 in the first half -- and 11 assists. Durant scored 28 points in the second half, including 18 in the fourth, and also had 13 rebounds.No other Oklahoma City player scored in double figures."There's going to be nights where one has the hot hand and there's going to be other nights the other does," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.Both top scorers were hot against the Hawks. Durant made six of nine shots in the final period, including three 3-pointers, and the Hawks couldn't find a way to slow the 6-foot-9 forward."We double-teamed him, we zoned him," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "He still made shots. You can't stop him when he's hot like that."Durant said Westbrook's strong first half helped open more opportunities for him after the break."He was aggressive and they were giving him jump shots," Durant said. "We just played off of that. He was very good and it opened up for me in the second half."Durant acknowledged he launched some "questionable" shots. "But my teammates wanted me to do it," he said.Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 19 points, Josh Smith had 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Al Horford and Lou Williams scored 13 apiece.Durant was especially strong after Atlanta cut a 16-point deficit midway through the third quarter to 73-69.Durant slowed Atlanta's comeback attempt when he dominated a sequence on both ends of the floor, blocking a shot by Smith before throwing down a jam. Smith drew a foul and Durant sank the free throw to push the lead to 85-75.With about 3 minutes remaining, Durant hit a fallaway jumper. Less than a minute late, he made a spin move and then sank a 3-pointer over the 6-foot-7 Kyle Korver, who was left shaking his head."He's just one of those players," Korver said. "People don't understand how tall he is and how long his arms are."The fallaway jumper and spinning 3-pointer would have been unlikely attempts for most players."That's him, though," Horford said. "He can do it. He's that good of a player, unfortunately for us."Oklahoma City (21-4) improved the NBA's best record and atoned for a 104-95 home loss to the Hawks on Nov. 4. That loss left Oklahoma City 1-2; it is 20-2 since then and hasn't lost since Nov. 23 at Boston.The 12 straight wins matches the longest streak for the franchise since 1996, when it had a 14-game winning streak as the Seattle SuperSonics.The Hawks took their last lead at 19-17 on a follow shot by Anthony Morrow. The Thunder then went ahead with a 10-1 run that overlapped the end of the first period and the start of the second. Martin opened and closed the run with jumpers.Oklahoma City stretched the lead to 17 on four straight free throws by Durant following fouls by Morrow late in the half."You can't have a second quarter like we did," Horford said. "We had a lapse and they took a big lead. You can't do that against a team like them."The Thunder led 68-52 midway through the third quarter, but a technical foul against Smith with 3:12 remaining in the period seemed to spark the Hawks.Smith sank a 3-pointer as part of Atlanta's 8-0 run to close the period. Anthony Tolliver scored the first three points of the fourth quarter on a free throw and jam to cut the Thunder's lead to 73-69.Westbrook ended Atlanta's 11-0 run with a jam following an offensive rebound by Nick Collison.Sere Ibaka had 4 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder.NOTES:The Thunder assigned F Perry Jones and G DeAndre Liggins to the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League. Jones, the first-round pick from Baylor, has appeared in 10 games, averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds. ... The Hawks were without G Devin Harris, who left Tuesday night's game at Washington after injuring his left foot. He wore a walking boot on Wednesday. ... Morrow returned after missing two games with a sore back. ... Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Kris Medlen and Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves attended the game and sat with former teammate Tommy Hanson, who was recently traded to the Angels.

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine's conditioning at '70 percent' but still on schedule

Everybody saw the play, that awkward instance where Zach LaVine looked ready for his second dunk of the season but was fouled from behind by Atlanta’s Taurean Prince.

It looked as if LaVine was ready for liftoff but one of his jets misfired, sparking at least the thought of his recovery from his ACL injury being a bit off—but he laughed at the thought.

“I don’t know why everybody keeps talking about it,” LaVine said Sunday at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, where the Bulls held practice. “The dude stepped on the back of my foot, so I couldn’t get off the ground. Everybody’s wondering if I’m okay, yeah. I just missed a fouled layup.”

The adrenaline from his first two games have worn off a bit, and he missed his first four shots from the field Saturday before hitting a couple in the start of the third quarter in the Bulls’ 113-97 win over the Hawks.

He looked winded a few times during his stint and admitted his conditioning isn’t where it should be—as expected given he’s missed 11 months of real basketball. He said his conditioning is at about “70 percent”, and you can certainly see it in his jump shot not being as fluid as it was last season in Minnesota.

“It was feeling good in practice but in games it’s seventy,” LaVine said. “Playing defense, getting back, running the break, just getting used to it.”

Add to it, the Bulls cover the most halfcourt ground of any team in the NBA with their set offense and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has long said he’s not slowing down his offense while LaVine is in.

The shooting guard will have to catch up to the pace, and it’ll probably be better for him in the long run.

“I think it’s just ‘okay’ and rightfully so,” said Hoiberg about LaVine’s conditioning. “It’s impossible to simulate game action in practices when you’re doing individual workouts. Every time he plays that conditioning will ramp up. As he plays, it’ll get better and better. And he’s such a good and natural athlete, it’ll come back quickly.”

Hoiberg isn’t concerned about the variances in LaVine’s performances. He came out the gate with such force and adrenaline in his debut against Detroit and two days later against Miami, but it’s tailed off against Golden State and then Atlanta.

“I think Zach’s doing great,” Hoiberg said. “You look around the league where players have come back from significant injuries, he’s gonna be up and down. His first two games he’s been unbelievable. A couple games he hasn’t shot the ball great. He played unselfish basketball last night.”

LaVine’s minutes has been extended to 24 from 20, and he’ll still practice in the off-days as the Bulls want to keep his rehab on schedule as opposed to having him play heavy minutes initially.

He’ll be re-evaluated after Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia and could see his minutes rise before the Bulls host the Lakers Friday at the United Center.

“I should just get used to it,” LaVine said. “Just getting used to the swing of things. It takes a second for your body to get adjusted to it.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls visit Pelicans

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Pregame Live.

1. Anthony Davis

The five-time All-Star just continues to improve. While he's not averaging career-highs in any major category, no one's going to scoff at his 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 36 minutes per game. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the field and is on pace for a career-best in 3-pointers made, which is a pretty impressive statistic. Lauri Markkanen will have his hands full, and it may be in the Bulls' best interest to get Nikola Mirotic some early minutes to try and get physical with Davis. There's no real way to slow him down.

2. DeMarcus Cousins

And if the Bulls should so happen to get lucky and slow down Davis, there's another All-Star starter waiting alongside him. Boogie Cousins has been every bit as good as Davis this season, averaging 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 36 minutes. He's certainly not as efficient as Davis (47 percent from the field, 5.0 turnovers) but is deadly inside. He's shooting a career-best 52.8 percent on 2-pointers this season, and his 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks make him a serviceable defender (although the Bulls could certainly stretch their offense to make him work more).

3. Rajon Rondo

Rondo hasn't been great in his first season with the Pellies, but perhaps he's turning things around. Beginning with his absurd 25-assist game just after Christmas, Rondo is averaging 7.4 points, 8.2 assists and 1.0 steal per game. He's allowed Jrue Holiday to play more off the ball, and while his defense is nothing to write home about he's logging solid minutes for a Pelicans team woefully short in the backcourt.