The 2012 NBA All-Star balloting will begin Wednesday and some familiar faces have been selected. The Bulls announced that Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton will represent Chicago on this year's ballot. The NBA All-Star ballot lists 120 players - 60 from the Eastern and Western Conferences -- with 24 guards, 24 forwards and 12 centers from each conference. Voters will select two guards, two forwards and one center from each conference. Rose was elected to his first career All-Star Game as a reserve for the Eastern Conference in the 2009-'10 season, making him the first Chicago Bull to make the All-Star Game since Michael Jordan in 1998. Last season, he continued to be 'like Mike' and was announced as a starting guard on the NBA All-Star team for the East squad, being the first All-Star starter for the Bulls since Jordan. Fans can vote directly at Bulls.comVoteBulls or use their Facebook profile information to create an NBA.com All-Access account, enabling them to complete a ballot. Voting will conclude Jan. 31 and starters will be announced on Feb. 2, during a special pregame show at 6 p.m. prior to the double header featuring the Bulls at the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets at the Los Angeles Clippers on TNT. The 61st annual NBA All-Star Game will be played at the Amway Center on Sunday, Feb. 26. It's not much of a surprise that Rose made the ballot once again, but what about the others? We're not that deep into the season for obvious reasons but is it too soon to judge All-Star caliber? Who do you think deserves to be on the team?
On the heels of an epic comeback over the Cavaliers on Saturday, the Bulls visit the Bucks in search of a signature win. The game tips off at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:
Bucks’ last five games: (5-0)
Jan. 18 — W at Nets: 117-97
Jan. 16 — W at Celtics: 128-123
Jan. 14 — W vs. Knicks: 128-102
Jan. 11 — W at Trail Blazers: 122-101
Jan. 10 — W at Kings: 127-106
Storyline(s) to watch
There’s a lot working against the Bulls in this one. On top of the Bucks being, far and away, the best team in the NBA so far this season (their current +12.6 point differential is almost two points better than the 2015-16 Warriors), they’re currently in the midst of a six-game win streak and own the league’s second-best home record at 20-2. These teams have met three times already this season, with the Bucks winning all three by an average margin of 14.7 points. The Bulls will be happy the fourth meeting is the last.
It’s another game against a winning team, famously the Bulls’ kryptonite. The comeback over Cleveland was great theater, but the Bucks represent the harshest of reality checks. In those aforementioned three matchups, Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.3 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while shooting 56.7%. As a team, the Bucks averaged 55 rebounds per games (to the Bulls' 46), blocked 6.3 shots per game and held the Bulls to a cumulative 39.4% shooting from the field in those three games.
On the flip side, pulling out a win, though unlikely, would be that much more of a confidence boost.
Player(s) to watch: The shooters
Antetokounmpo is borderline unstoppable. The ever-looming threat of him getting rolling is the most pressing issue facing the Bulls today, especially without both of their top two centers.
But the Bucks are truly devastating to match up with because of the shooting they’ve surrounded him with. As a team, Milwaukee attempts the fourth-most 3-pointers per game (38.8) and cans them at a 36% clip. That’s not mind-bending efficiency, but between *deep breath* George Hill (53.3% from deep, three attempts per game), Kyle Korver (42.6%, 3.9 attempts), Khris Middleton (41.5%, 5.2 attempts), Ersan Ilyasova (37%, 2.5 attempts), Wes Matthews (36%, 4.2 attempts), Eric Bledsoe (35.4%, 3.6 attempts) and others, they’re a threat to have at least one or more guys catch fire from deep every night. Even in a down shooting year, Brook Lopez (29.9%, 4.7 attempts) isn’t afraid to chuck, either, especially above the break.
The Bucks have made at least 10 3-pointers in all but three of their 44 games this season. The bright side? The Bulls are responsible for one of those and have outshot the Bucks from behind the arc in two of their three meet-ups — though, of course, none have resulted in wins.
Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. the Bucks defense
LaVine is the engine behind most every competent offensive stretch of basketball for the Bulls this season, but he's struggled versus Milwaukee, averaging just 18.3 points and 32.2% shooting in their previous three meetings. This season, the Bulls own a 99.8 offensive rating with LaVine off the floor (per Cleaning the Glass) and are 3-10 in games in which he scores under 20 points. LaVine's 31 20-point games are leagues more than the rest of his teammates have combined (20), as are his 14 30-point outings (Lauri Markkanen has two of those).
LaVine is on a rare kind of tear of late, but the Bucks are multiple steps up from the quality of opponent he has been eviscerating. With the unique amount of length and athleticism they'll be able to throw at him (as a team, the Bucks own a 101.4 defensive rating, first in the NBA), the Bulls will have to be creative in finding ways to get LaVine going. If they can't, it will likely spell doom.
Trend to watch: A return to small-ball?
Against the Cavaliers, Boylen rode a new-look lineup of Kris Dunn, LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Markkanen down the stretch to enormous success. Boylen has stated that he wants everyone on this team to be interchangeable relative a consistent style of play, but the Bulls deviated from their norm and switched a ton of pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter of that game, forcing 10 Cavaliers turnovers while holding them to 14 points and 26.7% shooting.
Yes, that was the Cavs and these are the Bucks. Still, LaVine and Dunn were both highly complimentary of that lineup’s speed and versatility after the game, and it’ll be interesting to see if Boylen goes back to the well with it — or at least starts switching more in pick-and-roll situations as a different look defensively.
Robin Lopez (illness) is out vs. Bulls.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 20, 2020
The Bulls are undermanned in the frontcourt, at present, so evading R. Lopez minutes off the bench is helpful.
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The NBA will announce the starters for next month’s All-Star game at the United Center before the nationally televised TNT doubleheader on Tuesday.
The choices are pretty obvious in the West with Luka Doncic and James Harden well ahead of the field in the backcourt and the frontline set with Kawhi Leonard joining Laker teammates Anthony Davis and LeBron James.
The East frontcourt also should be easy to choose with Joel Embiid at center, flanked by forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam. You could make the argument for former Bull Jimmy Butler being named over Siakam since the Toronto forward missed 11 games because of injury, but Siakam was the driving force behind Toronto’s fast start after losing Leonard as a free agent last summer.
Embiid has missed 13 games because of knee maintenance and a dislocated finger, but he’s the most dominant center in the East, and should get a starting spot if healthy.
Now to the East backcourt, where there really aren’t any clear cut choices to start. I would give a spot to Atlanta’s Trae Young, despite the fact the Hawks are having a terrible season with the worst record in the East. His numbers are just too impressive to ignore. Young is fourth in the league in scoring at 28.8 and also fourth in assists at 8.5.
Boston’s Kemba Walker would be my other starter. HIs arrival has allowed young perimeter players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to thrive, but Walker is also the player with the ball in his hands at the end of close games. He brings so many of the intangible qualities that Kyrie Irving lacked in Boston.
Speaking of Irving, it’s unlikely he’ll get a spot after missing most of the first half of the season because of a shoulder injury. Eastern conference coaches will name two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild card selections as reserves, which means Zach LaVine’s fate is in their hands.
If the coaches decide to reward players from winning teams, look for Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry to get the two reserve guard spots, leaving Bradley Beal, LaVine, Spencer Dinwiddie, Derrick Rose and Malcolm Brogdon in the running for a possible wild card selection.
Will LaVine make it? The odds are against him right now, but he’s doing everything in his power to impact the coaches’ vote with a spectacular month of January. I’ll have my All-Star reserve picks next week.
Now on to the power rankings.