Bulls

NBA Buzz: The city of Chicago has next for All-Star Weekend

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AP

NBA Buzz: The city of Chicago has next for All-Star Weekend

Chicago Bulls' President Michael Reinsdorf is more than prepared to host the NBA's showcase event next year. After all, he's been taking his son Joey to All-Star weekend in cities across the country over the last 15 seasons for some father-son bonding with a little research mixed in. So, you can bet the Bulls' organization will have more than a few ideas on how to make the 2020 spectacle one of the best the league has even seen.

Now the question is, how well represented will the Bulls be on the court for the weekend events?

Friday night should be easy with Wendell Carter Jr., Chandler Hutchison and the Bulls' No. 1 pick in June likely candidates for the Rising Stars game for first and second-year players.

Then on Saturday, we're already hearing rumblings of a rematch between 2016 Slam Dunk contest finalists Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, with 2018 champ Donovan Mitchell and this year's winner Hamidou Diallo possibly rounding out the field. Lauri Markkanen is a likely selection for either the Skills Challenge or the 3-Point Contest, and who knows, if the Bulls are lucky enough to draft Zion Williamson, he could crash the party in the dunk contest as well.

The Bulls' chances of getting a player in the main event are largely dependent on their record through the first half of next season. LaVine is averaging 23 points per game right now, but didn't get a sniff from the coaches who are responsible for selecting the All-Star reserves. Markkannen missed the first two months of the season, but he's been playing like an All-Star lately, averaging 23.7 points and 12.6 rebounds over his last 7 games.

It's hard to predict how free agency will affect the balance of power between the East and West heading into next season, but when you consider guys like Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton and D'Angelo Russell were named as reserves for the East this year, you'd have to think either Markkanen or LaVine would have a decent shot at being selected next February if the Bulls' record is respectable.

Speaking of which, prospects for a much improved Bulls' team next season are looking brighter than they did just a few weeks ago. Start with Markkanen getting back to the versatile offensive play we witnessed at the end of his rookie year, mix in the improved offensive efficiency of Zach LaVine, and then add the acquisition of Otto Porter Jr., who's been nothing short of sensational since arriving from the Wizards in a trade for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker.

The Bulls are a modest 2-2 since Porter's arrival, with the 6th year forward averaging 22.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on 62 percent shooting from the field and 58 percent from the 3-point line. It's probably unrealistic to expect Porter to continue playing at that level, but his presence on the court has opened up driving lanes for LaVine and Markkanen, with defenders unwilling to leave a 3-point shooting threat to offer double team help. And, Porter's ability to contribute at both ends of the court should be an even bigger plus as the coaching staff designs ways to best utilize the talent on the roster heading into training camp in September.

With Carter Jr. back to protect the rim next season, and the addition of a high lottery pick, the Bulls should be poised to make a significant jump in the Eastern Conference standings next season. Whether or not that ends up in a return to the playoffs is hard to predict, but if the Bulls are hovering around the .500 mark in January of 2020, their chances of having an All-Star game representative will be greatly improved.

There's no doubt the Bulls’ organization and the city of Chicago will be ready to put on a world-class show for All-Star weekend. We'll just have to wait and see if the Bulls’ improved play on the court will be a topic of conversation for the national media in attendance.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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Those same reporters spent a lot of time last weekend trying to figure out exactly what Anthony Davis wants for his basketball future. Davis and his agent, Rich Paul, tried a power play a few weeks back to force the Pelicans to trade Davis to the Lakers, where he would team up with Paul's lifelong-friend LeBron James.

Pelicans' GM Dell Demps and team ownership pushed back against that request, saying they would wait until the summer to seek out a trade that’s most beneficial to the franchise. Demps wound up getting fired last week, but the resolve of ownership to get the best possible return for one of the top-five players in the league hasn't changed.

At last Friday's All-Star media day, Davis told reporters he was open to going to any of the other 29 teams, as long as that organization is committed to winning. But by the time the national media left Charlotte, reports were already circulating that Davis wasn't interested in staying in Boston long-term if he's traded to the Celtics, suggesting his end game still involves a partnership with LeBron in L.A.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans are trying to decide whether it's in their best interests to continue playing Davis, especially after he left a game last Thursday because of a bruised left shoulder. At this point, the Pelicans are better off losing games to improve their odds in the draft lottery, while also making sure Davis doesn't suffer a serious injury before they can negotiate a trade around draft day in June.

The league has already told Pelicans' management they have to play Davis if he's healthy, so we could be heading to a stand-off very soon. The Chicago native will likely be playing for a new team next season, but the process of getting a trade done is turning out to be a lot more difficult than Davis, his agent and LeBron expected.

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All-Star weekend turned out to be a showcase for the team with the league's best record right now. The Bucks' coaching staff ran the show for Team Giannis with Antetokounmpo and Middleton among the 12 players on the roster. Giannis put on a dunking exhibition, leading all scorers with 38 points, while Middleton added 20, making 6 of 10 attempts from 3-point range.

The final 25 game sprint to the playoffs should be entertaining in the East, where the Bucks hold a one game lead over Toronto, with the Celtics and Sixers 6.5 games back. Philadelphia will use the final 7 weeks of the season to try to build some chemistry with in-season trade acquisitions Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, while Boston will be looking for better chemistry in general after an inconsistent start to the season.

Gordon Hayward finally appears to be rounding into form after missing all of last season with a serious leg injury. Hayward has improved his scoring average every month, and has played his best basketball over the last 5 games, averaging 17 points on 61 percent shooting from the field. With Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier all coming off the bench, Brad Stevens should have plenty of weapons at his disposal for what promises to be a hotly contested postseason in the East.

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Meanwhile, the race in the West is more interesting at the bottom of the playoff field, with the focus on whether LeBron James will be able to carry the Lakers into the postseason. James still looks like he's playing at three-quarters speed after suffering a groin injury in a Christmas Day game, and the Lakers find themselves games behind the cross-town Clippers for the final playoff spot, and two games behind the 9th place Kings.

Sacramento will be going all out to make the postseason with a rebuilt young roster centered around the backcourt of De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, while the Clippers might have a tough time hanging on after trading their best player, Tobias Harris, to the Sixers.

If we've learned anything over the last decade, it's never a good idea to bet against James carrying his team beyond expectations. LeBron might be looking ahead to the summer recruiting season, but he didn't come to L.A. to miss the playoffs, and his talent and resolve should be enough to get the Lakers one of those final spots out West.
 

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)
 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”