Bradley Beal

Zach LaVine posts All-Star performance vs. two-time All-Star Bradley Beal

Zach LaVine posts All-Star performance vs. two-time All-Star Bradley Beal

When the Bulls and Wizards took the court to begin the second half Wednesday night, red streamers hung from the new, state-of-the-art scoreboard, shiny detritus hanging around from the halftime show.

“[Officials] said, ‘We gotta take these down.’ I said, ‘No, let’s play. What are we worried about the streamers for? We got a game to play. They gotta get home. They gotta travel. What are we doing?’” coach Jim Boylen said after the Bulls’ 115-106 victory. “I coached [Wizards coach] Scotty [Brooks] in Houston.  So I’ve known Scotty for 25 years. I said, ‘Scotty, you wanna play?’ He said, ‘Let’s play.’ That was it. We played.”

Zach LaVine certainly did. And the Bulls’ guard boosted his chances to make the Feb. 16 All-Star game at the United Center, where, presumably, streamers will be in abundance.

“It would mean a lot. It’s one of my goals,” LaVine said about possibly making his first. “I think it would be great for the city, having one of their own guys there. I don’t feel like I need the verification of it. I think I know where I’m at as a player and how I’ve been player. Even last year, compared to other people, I know how good I am. I think it’s always good to have that solidified, especially when it’s in your home building.”

LaVine is certainly playing like one, outdueling two-time All-Star Bradley Beal, who played despite being a gametime decision with a banged-up shoulder.

LaVine posted his 13th 30-point game of the season, running his streak of scoring 25 or more points to a career-best five games. In the Eastern Conference, only Giannis Antetokounmpo, with 30, and Trae Young, with 26, have posted more 25-point games than LaVine’s 23.

“I think he should be in the game,” Boylen said. “He’s an All-Star caliber player. He’s an All-Star caliber person. He has worked very hard.

“It’s an unbelievable story, too. Wins the dunk contest twice, tears the ACL, comes back and is becoming a two-way player. He’s leading more. He’s communicating more. He’s developing... You look at his crunch-time numbers and the big shots he makes in winning time. I think it’s all right there for him.”

LaVine never has lacked for confidence. And he hasn’t been shy about expressing how much he feels he deserves All-Star status. Heck, he felt he belonged last year, pointing to how his statistics matched favorably with then-Hornets guard Kemba Walker’s.

Now, it’s LaVine who could benefit from the hometown bump — last year’s game was played in Walker’s then-home arena in Charlotte — particularly if NBA commissioner Adam Silver needs to name an injury replacement.

“I expect myself to play this way,” LaVine said. “I put a lot of work in for it. It doesn’t mean a lot to me unless it ends in a win like this. So that feels good.”

About the only blemish on LaVine’s night came when he missed a technical foul shot. That snapped a streak of 26 straight made free throws by LaVine, who didn’t go to the line again.

LaVine added seven assists and seven rebounds, and that’s where his game has shown the most growth this season. His decision-making and ability to read the game stand out.

“That’s what All-Stars do. They give you what they can give you every night,” Boylen said. “I love the scoring part. I like the two-way player part. I like the way he’s knocking balls loose and flying around. I like the way he’s attacking the rim. He’s having a great season. And he’s getting better all the time.”

LaVine sank six 3-pointers. That gives him 16 games with at least four 3-pointers this season, matching Ben Gordon’s franchise record. The Bulls have 40 games to play.

Translated: He’ll break Gordon’s mark.

That wouldn’t bring streamers down from the rafters, but an All-Star appearance might.

“You have to be consistent. I think I have in the past. I have to continue to do that,” LaVine said “I’m in a nice little groove right now. But I got the same mindset every time I step on the floor.”

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Scott Brooks 'loves' Zach LaVine, still deciding on All-Star reserve vote

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USA Today

Scott Brooks 'loves' Zach LaVine, still deciding on All-Star reserve vote

In a game between the Bulls and Wizards that will see Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal butt heads — and in Chicago, no less — it was inevitable that February's All-Star game would be a point of discussion.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks certainly saw it coming. He's always thinking a step ahead.

"I love Zach," Brooks said when pressed on the subject of LaVine's all-star case. "Tomorrow night, I'm gonna play someone in Toronto and I'm gonna say the same thing."

The Wizards face the Raptors and fellow all-star hopefuls Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry on Friday.

"I'm voting for you, Zach," Brooks finished — jokingly, of course.

But Brooks did offer some genuine insight into the thought process he'll employ in his voting. Coaches, remember, select each conference's seven reserves for the game after the fans (50 percent), media (25 percent) and players (25 percent) combine to choose the starters.

"I don't," Brooks said when asked if he subscribes to the belief that players on losing teams should be excluded from all-star consideration. "It plays a little bit of a role, but a lot of times players get put in situations that's not their fault. Whether it's injuries, the organization is in a rebuild or there's just many things.

"So I don't ever look at that, cause it's unfair. It's not the players' fault. Sometimes you get caught up in a situation that's not your fault. If you're one of the best 12 players in the conference, you should be voted in as one of the all-stars."

That sentiment will resonate with supporters of LaVine and Beal. The Bulls (14-27) and Wizards (13-26) are both well on the outside looking in of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, but both have put together compelling all-star cases — statistically speaking, anyway.

Brooks won't be able to vote for Beal, himself, but made his position on his candidacy known.

"Oh, no doubt," Brooks said when asked if Beal is an all-star in his own eyes. "Everybody knows."

And as for LaVine (in all seriousness)?

"I mean, Zach is right there. Zach is gonna be right there as being an all-star. He puts up all-star numbers," Brooks said. "He's definitely in the mix, I don't know where I'm going with it, but he's definitely in the mix."

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All-Star hopefuls Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal face off as Bulls host Wizards

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USA Today

All-Star hopefuls Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal face off as Bulls host Wizards

Wizards’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 12 — L vs. Jazz: 127-116

  • Jan. 10 — W vs. Hawks: 111-101

  • Jan. 8 — L at Magic: 123-89

  • Jan. 6 — W vs. Celtics: 99-94

  • Jan. 4 — W vs. Nuggets: 128-114

Storyline(s) to watch

The Wizards (13-26) remain one of the more random, yet entertaining groups in the league. They still own a high-powered offense, rated ninth in the NBA, a sluggish defense, rated dead last by almost a full point per 100 possessions, but from the ever-excellent Bradley Beal to the insurgent Davis Bertans, to the resurgent Isaiah Thomas, they’re apt to shock anyone on a nightly basis. Just over a week ago, they logged successive victories over the Nuggets and Celtics without Beal; tonight, they trot into Chicago on two days rest, good news for a team that’s at its best running and gunning.

In the Wiz is a good test for a Bulls (14-27) defense, slipping. Since Dec. 30 — a stretch that’s seen the Bulls drop seven of eight games — their defensive rating of 115.6 ranks 26th in the NBA, and their season-long rating has slid from third to ninth. The competition ramped up, Wendell Carter Jr. went down and, inevitably, the fissures are beginning to show. We’re likely not in for a ride as wild as these teams’ last meetup on Dec. 18, when the Bulls erased an 18-point fourth quarter deficit and stole an overtime win in D.C., but a victory of any variety would be welcome for the Bulls.

Player to watch: Bradley Beal

If your ‘Zach LaVine All-Star watch’ radar is on high alert, Beal is a guy to track every night, but especially in a head-to-head matchup. 

Beal is one game returned from a leg injury that caused him to miss five of the Wizards’ first six contests of the month, and in that game — an 11-point loss to the Jazz — he scored 25 points on 11-for-25 shooting (0-for-7 from 3). LaVine’s torrid tear since the start of December was somewhat quelled by an 8-for-21 shooting night against Detroit on Saturday, but he bounced back in Boston to the tune of 30 points on 9-for-18 (3-for-6 from deep), albeit in defeat. 

When these two squared off back in December, neither had particularly impressive scoring outings — Beal netting 22 points on 4-for-19 and LaVine 24 on 6-for-23 — but LaVine won the stretch run with a personal 8-2 run to cap a miraculous Bulls comeback in regulation. He also, remember, dished out the game-winning assist in OT to Wendell Carter Jr., one of LaVine’s five dimes on the night. 

In terms of the All-Star discussion, Beal’s dizzying 27.7 points per game mark for the season (fifth in the NBA) and two prior All-Star berths probably give him an edge over LaVine for the time being, especially with each of their teams mired well under .500. With both likely to float amongst the reserve pool for coaches and media to sift through, anything is possible come February, but as for tonight, two of the best scoring guards in the league duking it out remains great theater, regardless.

Matchup to watch: Lauri Markkanen vs. Wizards froncourt

The aforementioned Dec. 18 matchup saw Lauri Markkanen posit his second-best performance of the season. In the win, he scored 31 points on 19 shots, snared nine rebounds and canned five of 10 3-point attempts, shouldering the offensive load for much of the game with LaVine enduring an off-night. 

On a related note: Amidst a litany of putrid defensive numbers for the Wizards this season, issues on the interior stand out. Washington allows opponents 52.1 points in the paint per game (27th in the NBA), blocks only 4.2 shots per contest (26th) and collects just 42.5 rebounds per game (29th). Their established frontcourt rotation of Ian Mahimni, Davis Bertans and Anzejs Paseczniks is as porous as they come.

Even with Thomas Bryant back in a limited capacity for the Wiz, the shorthanded Bulls should be able to take advantage. It will be especially important for Markkanen to do so — his regression to this point this season has become eyebrow-raising. Draining his open ones, running the floor and assertively attacking closeouts will be his recipe for success, as on most nights.

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