West edges East in NBA All-Star Game


West edges East in NBA All-Star Game

ORLANDO If the Bulls played a game the way the Eastern Conference did Sunday night, Tom Thibodeau would lambaste his team for lack of preparedness and a lackluster defensive effort that led to them falling into a deep hole and having to play from behind. But this was the All-Star Game, so the perfectionist coach remained seated, rested his two All-Stars and oversaw a furious comeback that ended in a familiar sight for NBA fans: LeBron James coming up short in the clutch, leading to a 152-149 West win.

Derrick Rose (14 points) got an early fast-break finish off a dazzling James assist, but overall, the Bulls point guard left the spectacular plays to the likes of Miamis James (36 points). For the West, Kobe Bryant (27 points) scored early and often, but the aerial display put on by Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant (36 points) and Blake Griffin (22 points) of the Clippers was what wowed the Orlando crowd as the Western Conference jumped out to a double-digit advantage in the opening stanza.

Thibodeau wasted no time in inserting the Bulls other All-Star, Luol Deng, who entered the contest at the 5:51 mark of the period and shortly thereafter dropped off an assist to Chicago native Dwyane Wade (24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) of the rival Heat. Rose got his first break with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter, after which the West led, 39-28.

Thibodeau sat Deng at the outset of the second quarter, but received wing firepower in the form of Philadelphias Andre Iguodala, an Illinois native, whose all-around game and artistry in the air created a buzz in the audience. However, behind reserve Russell Westbrook (21 points) of the Thunder, the West maintained its comfortable winning margin and stayed in control of the high-scoring affair, led by the playmaking of Chris Paul (12 assists) of the Clippers.

Thibodeau shrewdly kept his stars on the bench through the end of the first half, not that either could have done much to make up the Easts massive deficit, though guards Wade and New Jerseys Deron Williams (22 points) did their best to keep their team in contention. At the intermission, the Bulls head coachs squad trailed, 88-69, as Durants scoring output carried the West.

After the break, Rose scored consecutive buckets a putback of an offensive rebound and a pull-up jumper as part of an East run that made it a more competitive game, best illustrated by Wades hard foul on Bryant that caused the Lakers superstar, who passed Michael Jordan to become the leading scorer in All-Star history in the third quarter, to bleed. Rose later knocked down consecutive three-pointers, helping make it a single-digit game, by virtue of an 18-6 run.

Thibodeau, who had left his starters in the game to spur the run, eventually rested Rose, who made his mark on the game after being somewhat passive in his first two All-Star appearances, with just over four minutes to go in the period. Meanwhile, the West recovered from the onslaught and kept a tenuous hold on the lead after withstanding its counterparts spurt and headed into the final frame holding a 124-112 lead.

The Easts reserves couldnt keep up the starters momentum and allowed the West, buoyed by Durant and three-point contest winner Kevin Love (17 points) of the Timberwolves, to extend their lead. But behind Williams, Iguodala and the reinserted James, the East again made a push to take some air out of their opponents cushion, as the game entered its stretch run.

With the East again cutting the deficit to single digits, eventual game MVP Durant and James staged an exciting duel that captivated fans and their peers alike, hitting contested long-distance from nearly impossible angles. A one-possession game with just over two minutes left, a Williams steal and layup cut it to 148-147 with under two minutes remaining, but with a chance to take the lead, Wade flubbed a fast-break opportunity.

A hectic sequence led to a Griffin follow-up dunk with 37 seconds on the clock, which was followed by Wade getting fouled and making two free throws to make it 150-149 with 22.8 seconds left. Bryant, regarded as the most clutch player in the league, was fouled on the next possession, but surprisingly missed the second of two foul shots, giving the East a chance to win or tie the game with 16.3 seconds to go.

After an East timeout, James, scrutinized in past postseasons for his seeming unwillingness to take the last shot, twice passed the ball once to Williams and after an East offensive rebound, turned it over and Griffin was eventually fouled with 1.1 seconds remaining. After the woeful free-throw shooter split a pair from the charity stripe, Wade took a desperation double-pump shot from the corner that was off the mark.

Olympic swimmer Ryan Held reps Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono at TYR Pro Series

USA Today

Olympic swimmer Ryan Held reps Bulls' Ryan Arcidiacono at TYR Pro Series

When Ryan Arcidiacono saw Olympic swimmer Ryan Held’s latest Twitter post showing his homestate Bulls some love, the guard did a double-take.

“I was like, ‘I wonder if it’s Chandler [Hutchison],’” Arcidiacono said of Held wearing a Bulls No. 15 jersey as he prepared to take the blocks for a race. “And then I saw him bend and I could see my name and I was like, ‘Wow. That’s pretty cool.’”

This is the depth of Held’s fandom. The Springfield, Ill., native is breaking out Arcidiacono jerseys from the journeyman guard’s rookie season. Arcidiacono wears No. 51 now. Hutchison sports No. 15. 

“He’s a Bulls fan,” Arcidiacono said of Held. “I’ve never met him but we’ve exchanged some [direct messages] on Twitter. This last one, I Tweeted back at him and said, ‘Way to represent.’ I also wished him luck.” 

Held, who swam at Springfield’s Sacred-Heart Griffin High, may not need it. The Illinois swimmer of the year in 2014, he qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics and swam a leg on the gold-medal winning 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay team.

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Bulls, Cavaliers making no excuses in spite of stilted travel schedule

USA Today

Bulls, Cavaliers making no excuses in spite of stilted travel schedule

Snowy conditions in Chicago marred both the Bulls and Cavaliers' travel plans ahead of their bout Saturday night at the UC. Each team had its flights from respective departure cities (for the Bulls, Philadelphia; for the Cavaliers, Memphis) overnight on Friday, and didn't arrive in Chicago until Saturday morning.

But, before the game, both coaches scoffed good-naturedly at the notion that the stilted schedule might impact their preparation time or energy.

"We still showed up for our meal in Chicago at the same time," Cavaliers head coach John Beilein said. "I think with the NBA what I've observed is the long nap time in the afternoon is more important than anything for these guys. So we didn't get much sleep the night before, had to get up early. But we got to the hotel and ate at 11, and from 12 to 4 our guys got some pretty good rest."

"This has happened before. We're on a back-to-back, we need to do the basics better. I haven't talked about the travel, I'm not going to talk to the team about how difficult it was or whatever. I don't do that," Jim Boylen said. "This is the pro part, the professional part, so we gotta come out and play hard."

That the Bulls will do, as they do every night. And perhaps, in spite of their grueling January slate, they might find an edge over a Cavaliers team currently running a gauntlet of their own.

For the Cavs, this game is the last of a six-game road trip, on which they're 2-3 to this point. In that context, there might not be a more nightmarish matchup than the Bulls, given their ability to force turnovers. The Bulls' aggressive, trapping defensive scheme yields 17.8 opponent turnovers per game, the most in the NBA. The Cavaliers commit the second-most turnovers per game in the league (16.3) and own the league's highest turnover rate (16.4%).

"We're playing a very different team now with the way they play defense, very aggressive, steal the ball a lot," Beilein said. "We tried to show as much film as we could without wearing [the players] out, make sure that we were fresh seeing as we're coming off a back-to-back. They're leading the league in turning people over, we're leading the league in turning the ball over, so that'll be an interesting question whether we can solve that today."

"We always hope to have active hands and make people play through our hands," Boylen said. "Hopefully [we] do what we do."

The Bulls enter play 15-28, the Cavaliers 12-30. And both are coming off losses on the front end of their back-to-backs — the Bulls 100-89 to the 76ers and the Cavaliers 113-109 to the upstart Grizzlies. Logistical misfortunes aside, there's a game to be played tonight, and don't expect any excuses from either side.

"Both of us [the Cavaliers and Bulls] are coming off tough losses and we both have to deal with it, and you know, we'll see," Beilein said. "Hopefully it's going to be a really good game, and whichever team can battle that adversity the best is gonna win." 

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