Bulls

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

On Thursday, Zach LaVine will find out whether he makes his first All-Star game as a coaches’ reserve selection.

“Zach deserves to be an All-Star,” executive vice president John Paxson said. “I know we don’t have as many wins as we all would like. But nobody can ignore what he has done and it would be [an oversight] if he doesn’t get recognized.”

If he doesn’t, LaVine, and the Bulls, will be disappointed. But missing out shouldn’t obscure what is becoming a special season for LaVine.

Saturday’s masterpiece of 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a road victory over the Cavaliers is just the latest example. With averages of 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in January, he’ll also draw strong consideration for Eastern Conference player of the month.

Each summer, LaVine tries to add something to his game. This season, his focus centered on consistency and improving defensively. The 14 straight 20-point games is a sign of the former. And while he admittedly still occasionally drifts off the ball, his 1.4 steals per game mark is a career-best.

LaVine is on a streak of 14 straight 20-point games. His fourth 40-point effort of the season came with all defensive attention on him because Lauri Markkanen missed his second game of an extended absence with a hip injury. And that’s on top of the Bulls playing without Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr.

LaVine’s eight assists highlighted the improved decision-making that is defining this breakout season. And it also allowed him to join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls in franchise history to record at least 44-10-8 in a game.

That’s not the only time LaVine is getting mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan this season. He became the second-fastest player in franchise history behind Jordan to score 3,000 points in a Bulls uniform, needing 24 more games.

And he became the first player in franchise history to sink 300 3-pointers in 132 or fewer games.  He’s on pace to set the single-season franchise record for 3-pointers this season.

LaVine is averaging career-highs in scoring at 25.3 points per game, 3-point percentage at 38.9 and rebounding at 4.9. After a slow start, LaVine has increased his free-throw attempts to 5.6 per game, just .4 off last season’s career-high. He has increased his free-throw attempts per game every season he has been in the league.

Some critics still paint LaVine’s accomplishments as empty calories. There’s another line of thought that LaVine needs to be ball-dominant — his usage rate of 31.7 ranks 10th — to be successful.

LaVine still takes the occasional heat check. But his forced shots are way down and he’s carrying such an offensive burden mostly because he has to for this Bulls team. An example of his do-whatever-it-takes mentality: He has led the Bulls in rebounding since Carter went down to his sprained ankle.

LaVine has said he'd be more likely to participate in Saturday's slam dunk contest — and the 3-point shootout if he's invited — if he lands in Sunday's real All-Star game. What a weekend it could be. But even if it doesn't happen, LaVine is focused on this goal for the right reasons. He wants the Bulls to win.

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Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

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AP Images

Michael Jordan delivers heart-wrenching eulogy for Kobe Bryant

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were more than competitors, more than peers... More than even friends. Jordan made as much clear in eulogizing Bryant at a public memorial for him and his daughter Gigi at Staples Center on Monday.

Amid a beautifully numbing overall ceremony, Jordan’s comments struck the perfect balance between reflective, hilarious, heart-warming and gut-wrenching. My words couldn’t possibly do it justice. Here are Jordan’s, in full:

 

“Maybe it would surprise people that Kobe and I are very close friends,” Jordan said. “Kobe was my dear friend, he was like a little brother. Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I. I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”

And so he did. Highlights included a perfectly-timed ‘Crying Jordan’ meme quip and Jordan recalling countless late-night (and early-morning) conversations with Bryant about everything from basketball to business to family. On a day meant to be a celebration of life, Jordan delivered a deeply intimate look into his and Bryant’s relationship, and all the ways Bryant inspired him. It was incredibly powerful.

 

“He wanted to be the best basketball player he could be. As I got to know him, I wanted the best big brother that I could be,” Jordan said.

That manifested in those aforementioned conversations, which Jordan said turned from an “aggravation” to a deep passion over the course of knowing Bryant.

“He knows how to get you in a way that affects you personally, even if he’s being a pain in the ass,” Jordan said. “But you always have a sense of love for him, and the way he can bring out the best in you. And he did that for me.

“I remember maybe a couple months ago, he sends me a text. And he said ‘I’m trying to teach my daughter some moves, and I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was working on, but what were you working on as you were growing up trying to work on your moves?’ I said ‘What age?’ He said: ‘12.’ I said, ‘At 12 I was trying to play baseball’... And this was at 2 o’clock in the morning. But the thing about him is we could talk about anything related to basketball and anything related to life.” 

Jordan’s most emotional moments of speaking came when he detailed Bryant’s passion for basketball and family, and his unwavering desire to make those around him better. Those are the things that will endure.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” Jordan said. “I promise you, from this day forward, I will live with the memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could.” 

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NBA Power Rankings: Lakers dynamic duo will be tough to beat in the playoffs

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USA Today

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers dynamic duo will be tough to beat in the playoffs

The latest chapter in the storied rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers unfolded Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles with a national television audience watching all the drama.

Boston’s Jayson Tatum continued his ascension as one of the league’s clutch scorers by pouting in 41 points, helping his team grab a late lead at Staples Center. But when it comes to clutch performances, it’s hard to beat the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

James hit a step-back jumper to give his team a one point lead and then Anthony Davis hit three of four free throws down the stretch to give L.A. a 114-112 victory, increasing their latest winning streak to five games.

The Lakers are now five games up on Denver for the top seed in the West and they’ve strengthened their bench with the addition of veteran forward Markieff Morris, who was bought out of his contract by the Pistons last week.

While many NBA analysts believe the crosstown Clippers should be favored over the Lakers in a potential conference finals, it’s hard to beat the chemistry that James and Davis have displayed in their first season together.

James has become the de facto point guard for the Lakers, with his primary focus to get the ball to Davis at his favorite spots on the court. James is more than willing to accept the co-star role at this point in his career as he looks to win a fourth championship. And that approach should serve the Lakers well as they get ready to start the playoffs in mid-April.

The Clippers might look good on paper, but with Paul George in and out of the line-up because of a variety of injuries, time is starting to work against Doc Rivers’ team in trying to develop the on-court chemistry that is critical to playoff success.

Barring an upset, the battle of L.A. should play out in an exciting seven game series in late May. Basketball fans can hardly wait.

Now on to this week’s power rankings.