Bulls

Can the Lakers handle the Bulls?

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Can the Lakers handle the Bulls?

The start of the NBA regular season is finally just hours away with the Bulls playing the Lakers in Los Angeles Christmas day. The Lakers though, may not be as ready as they hoped.

They're a team coming off a poor season, losing four games to Dallas last May and taken out of the Western Conference semifinals. Have things changed? Will they be true competitors Sunday? They're a year older that's for sure but are they wiser?

What's definitely changed is the coaching situation. Phil Jackson lost his last four games as the Lakers' coach and has been replaced by Mike Brown. Things didn't fare so well after the lockout when they had a deal in place to get Chris Paul. The NBA wouldn't approve the trade and the Magic took away their hopes of acquiring Dwight Howard. Can the guys catch a break?

Distractions have filled the air with Kobe Bryant that could have an affect on the court. Bryant's wife filed for divorce and he sustained a torn ligament in his right wrist, with both possibly clouding his mind and becoming a recipe for disaster. But will it?

Bryant missed the Lakers' final preseason game Wednesday but practiced Friday and is expected to play Sunday. Will we see the same performance as last season, or even worse with all of his off the court issues? Let's hope so.

Bryant, 33, averaged 25.3 points per game last season, his lowest total since 2003-'04.

Let's not forget that Andrew Bynum's four-game suspension could also put a damper on things when it comes to stopping Derrick Rose. Rose isn't really the unstoppable type anyway.

I'm not too worried about the Bulls. They're coming off a season with the best record in the NBA and the core of their team is healthy and intact.

The Bulls are shooting 45. 1 percent from the field with the Lakers at 42.9 while the Bulls also have a rebounding advantage of 44.5 to 40.8. May seem like minor differences but with a distracted Bryant, could this be costly to L.A.?

What do you expect Sunday? Who will come out on top?

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

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USA TODAY

NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Workout season could be more important than ever

With Zion Williamson making his NBA regular season debut Wednesday night, we finally got a chance to see what a No. 1 overall draft pick is supposed to look like: an athletic and versatile skill set, with the chance to impact a franchise for years to come. 

2019 No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant also looks like a franchise-changing talent with his speed and playmaking ability, lifting Memphis into playoff contention.

So, which players will have that kind of impact in the 2020 draft?

Well, for now it’s almost impossible to say. James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 Memphis center, dropped out of school after playing just three games because of an eligibility battle with the NCAA. His size and raw tools are intriguing, but at this point his offensive game is extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball’s younger brother, LaMelo is sitting out the rest of the Australian professional league season while he rehabs from a foot injury, another Australian professional, R.J. Hampton, just returned from a hip injury and North Carolina’s combo guard Cole Anthony is getting ready to return from a knee injury to finish his one and done season. 

That’s left NBA talent evaluators scrambling in trying to figure out the top of the draft, with only Georgia’s Anthony Edwards healthy and available among the players projected as the possible No. 1 overall pick. 

So, as we get closer to the end of January, here’s a look at how teams could view the available talent, with the understanding that the draft order will change dramatically as NBA scouts and GMs get a look at how players perform in the most important games of the season still to come.

2020 NBA mock draft 3.0

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

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USA Today

Kemba Walker and Trae Young being named All-Star starters could help Zach LaVine

On Thursday, the NBA revealed the East and West starters for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Take a look:


Bulls fans will be honed in on the East selections given Zach LaVine's absence, though his realistic chances of starting the game have been slim-to-none since the first month of the season. In the last round of fan voting returns, LaVine was sixth among Eastern Conference backcourt players. He finished there, as well:


LaVine will get a chance to slide into a reserve slot, but the East’s starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Trae Young leaves a crowded field to contend with. Guards competing for the seven reserve spots include Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown. And that's without mentioning frontcourt favorites in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis.

But a modicum of good news did come from this announcement for those stumping for LaVine: Kyrie Irving's omission from the starting lineup. Irving, who has only played 15 games this season, had been second in fan voting at the time of last returns. Had he snuck in with the starters, LaVine would have also had Walker or Young to compete with for a reserve spot, both of whom he matches up with unfavorably. One has to figure Irving's odds of being selected by coaches as a reserve aren't high.

LaVine's chances still aren't necessarily great, but the coaches' picks for reserves will be announced on Jan. 30. If LaVine is shorted there, as well, there remains the possibility of an injury replacement down the road, which commissioner Adam Silver would select (this is probably his best shot).

Once the final pool of players is decided, they'll be drafted by team captains Giannis Antetokoumpo and LeBron James on Feb. 6.

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