Bulls

Zach LaVine doesn't give a damn about ESPN's new list

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine doesn't give a damn about ESPN's new list

Zach LaVine was noticeably absent from ESPN's list of best 25 players under the age of 25, which came as a bit of a surprise to him.

"Did it have something to do with my injury?" he queried, referencing to the ACL injury he suffered last February as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The list was published last week and based on future potential, not necessarily on accomplishments to date.

Lauri Markkanen made the list at No. 19, but the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade didn't make any of the three panelists' Top 25.

Usually cool, LaVine flashed a little bit of incredulousness once he had a chance to gather his thoughts.

"You guys (media) don't think I'm better...Top 25 players under 25? If I'm not in the Top 25 of that, then I obviously haven't done what I'm supposed to be doing out here," LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com. "I don't worry about that. I know I'm a lot better than what they think. Random people talking."

MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis headlined the list, followed by Joel Embiid, one-time LaVine teammate Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic rounding out the Top 5.

"I don't give a damn, man," LaVine said. "I motivate myself. I go out there and play for my team and family. I couldn't care what they think. There's a lot of people that know what I do."

Former teammate Andrew Wiggins also made the list, tied at No. 23. As a third option last season before his injury, LaVine averaged 18.9 points on 46 percent shooting and 39 from the 3-point line. This season, LaVine is averaging 17 points and nearly four rebounds with three assists in 27.5 minutes for the Bulls, having played in 22 games since making his debut in January. 

His shooting this season is down — at 39.5 percent — as he works himself into a new system on a changing team in addition to feeling out his body.

"Zach, right now, he's still working himself back into shape," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Having a year off, I don't think people understand how hard it is to get back into top form when you're almost off for a calendar year. He's shown some really good flashes and played really good basketball."

He's had some signature games, such as outdueling Butler last month in a 35-point showing that capped off a career-best streak of four straight 20-point games. There's been games where he looked dead-legged, an expected side effect from his recovery.

He called the 1-for-11 showing against the Boston Celtics last week "the worst game of my career."

"The Minnesota game was cool. I was just hyped for that game," LaVine said. "I felt good in the Portland game, I felt good in the Sacramento game. There's games I came out and felt really good. And then games I haven't, where it was like 'this is bad.'"

At his position, Washington's Bradley Beal (No. 8), Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Phoenix's Devin Booker (tied at No. 9), Denver's Gary Harris (No. 11) and Boston's Jaylen Brown (No. 22) checked in ahead of LaVine. 

Beal is blossoming, leading the Wizards in the absence of John Wall. Mitchell is a sensational Rookie of the Year candidate, helping Utah surge toward a playoff spot in the West. Booker had a 70-point game last season, but Phoenix is the league's second-worst team. Harris doesn't wow anyone statistically but is a darling of the advanced stats crowd and solid across the board. Brown has helped the Celtics thrive in the absence of Gordon Hayward.

LaVine is getting his first real chance at being a starter, and has had to do it under the circumstances of an injury recovery for a team that is looking toward the long play as opposed to contending in the moment.

"I'm just trying to get in a rhythm and get better," LaVine said. "Each game I try to go out and do better than I did the day before."

Considering he's up for restricted free agency this summer, he's had to resist the urge of going stat-hunting to stay inside the construct of Hoiberg's system, while at the same time trying to find his new footing.

"You have to be (aggressive). Sometimes, it gotta come within the flow of the game," LaVine said. "We have so many different lineups out here, it might not be your night, too. It's gonna be a process going forward with it."

Already supremely motivated, LaVine probably found something else to guide him for the rest of the season and beyond.

Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

Picking All-Stars reserves depends on what you're looking for

The NBA will announce the reserves for next month’s All-Star game at the United Center during a one hour special on TNT Thursday night.

My colleague Rob Schaefer did an excellent job of breaking down the numbers yesterday, and it’s hard to argue with any of his conclusions.

Here’s the way I see the coaches' picks shaking out on Thursday.

East Guards: Ben Simmons, Kyle Lowry. East Frontcourt: Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Khris Middleton. East Wild Cards: Domantas Sabonis, Bradley Beal.

West guards: Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell. West Frontcourt: Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram. West Wild Cards: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul.

All worthy selections without a doubt. But for me, the All-Star game is about athleticism and exciting open court plays. So, I would focus on players who could brings the fans to their feet with slam dunks, 3-point shooting and creative passing.

With that in mind, I would have Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine and Celtics’ forward Jayson Tatum on the squad instead of big men Adebayo and Sabonis. Let’s face it, LaVine was born to showcase his talents in an All-Star game. Zach is a two-time slam dunk champion and he’s shooting the 3-pointer more effectively than at any point in his career. Plus, the fact that the game is being played at the United Center would create even more motivation for LaVine to put on a show.

Tatum is another high-flying wing player who can make spectacular plays in the open court. He’s only shooting 43.5% from the field, but who cares? It’s an exhibition game!

And even though Kyle Lowry is having another good season in Toronto, he’s currently third in the league in average minutes played. So, why not give the 14 year veteran a little extra rest during All-Star weekend to gear up for the stretch run?

Let’s replace Lowry with former Bull and Chicago native Derrick Rose. How much fun would it be to watch Derrick flashing his end to end speed in front of the hometown crowd! Rose is having a terrific season with the Pistons, and you can only imagine what it would be like for him to cap off his basketball re-birth by playing in the All-Star game in Chicago.

Over in the West, I’ve got to get one of my personal favorites, Memphis rookie point guard Ja Morant into the game. Morant has been a nightly staple on the national highlight shows with his spectacular dunks, spectacular ball-handling and twisting finishes between defenders. Morant can take Chris Paul’s spot.

I would keep Jokic in the game because of his passing wizardry and 3 point shooting ability. He’s painfully slow changing ends, but he can still help create highlight plays with his impressive passing. On the other hand, defensive specialist Rudy Gobert has to go. I mean, who plays defense in an All-Star game?

Give me Paul George instead. George has been limited to just 26 games because of shoulder and hamstring injuries, but he’s still averaging 23.5 points and has the perfect skill-set for an All-Star game with the ability to bomb in 3-pointers (39.5% this season) and sky above the rim for alley-oop finishes.

My last change? Give Phoenix guard Devin Booker a chance to showcase his scoring talent at the All-Star game, and let Russell Westbrook leave his scowl at home. Booker once scored 70 points in a single game, and is a threat to score the minute he crosses half-court. He’s averaging 27 points a game, shooting an incredible 50.8% from the field and 36.5% from 3-point range.

No matter which players eventually wind up in the All-Star showcase, it promises to be an exciting night for everyone involved. But as the league gets ready to honor the memory of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, why not put on the most high-scoring, exciting All-Star game the world has ever seen?

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Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan

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Bucks owner Marc Lasry received some sound advice from Michael Jordan

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, are on quite a tear this year. Per NBA.com, the Bucks are No. 2 in the league offensive rating, No. 1 in defensive rating—and by the way, they are a full 2.7 points ahead of the second-best defense—and No. 1 by a very wide margin (5.1 points) in net rating. Any way you slice it, the 2019-20 Bucks have been one of the most dominant regular season teams in NBA history. So with all of that being said, it is no shock that Bucks owner Marc Lasry has lofty goals for his team, including matching the incredible 72-win season of the 1996 Bulls. 

According to a report from Eric Woodyard of ESPN, Lasry spoke with the leader of the '96 Bulls (guess who?) at Friday's Bucks-Charlotte Hornets matchup at AccorHotels Arena in France. Michael Jordan offered up some sound advice for Nasry, who told MJ that he wanted his 2019-20 Bucks to try to be like the '96 Bulls in becoming a part of the illustrious group of teams in NBA history to have won 70+ regular season games. All-time only two teams have won 70+ regular season NBA games, the MJ-Scottie Pippen led '96 Bulls and of course, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who went on to break the Bulls' record by winning 73 games. 

That memorable '16 Warriors season ultimately ended in heartbreak for the Dubs as they lost the NBA Finals in seven games to the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Kevin Love-led Cleveland Cavaliers. A prevailing thought was that the amount of energy the Warriors expended in going for the regular season record came back to haunt them in the playoffs, a similar sentiment shared by Jordan in his advice to Nasry. 

Look, my advice to you is don't focus on beating our record, focus on winning a championship.

-Michael Jordan's advice to Bucks owner Marc Lasry on how to handle this season

Nasry maintained that he wants the Bucks to "do everything," including winning 70+ games and collecting the second NBA title in franchise history. Milwaukee has 35 games left in the regular season and they don't look they have any intention of taking their foot off the gas anytime soon. Entering Wednesday morning, the Bucks are on a nine-game winning streak. Their latest win (on Tuesday night) came without Antetokounmpo playing, but guard Khris Middleton poured in a career-high 51 points in a game in which Milwaukee won by 20 and scored a whopping 151 points.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has managed the Bucks minutes well enough to go all out and even try to break the Warriors' 73-win mark but as Jordan advised, NBA Championships should always be the primary focus. But Nasry is also aware of the place in NBA lore the 2019-20 Bucks would hold when we look back on it IF they can accomplish all of his lofty goals. As Nasry himself stated, "we're going to focus on beating your [the 1996 Bulls] record and winning a championship.' I think we should do everything, but that's me."

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