Bulls are cutting it close with all-star selections
The NBA announced a slight change in the All-Star Game format this year. The two team captains will pick sides right before the game, rather than a few days ahead of time.
Unless they pick teams gym-class style with all the all-stars standing in a line on the court, then walking behind their captain, there's no point in picking teams. Just play East vs. West, which gives NBA fans a built-in rooting interest.
Last year, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine played on opposite sides, so how were Bulls fans supposed to choose?
That problem will be solved by the Bulls' slide in the standings. All-Star starters will be announced at 6 p.m. Thursday on TNT, with reserves a week later.
DeRozan won't repeat as a starter, since he ranked a distant sixth in the latest voting returns among Eastern Conference backcourt players. LaVine's streak of being named an All-Star two years in a row is in trouble.
Tuesday's performance at Indiana didn't work well as an all-star audition. The Bulls squandered a 21-point lead against a Pacers team that had lost seven in a row.
There's still plenty of time left to make a playoff run. The Bulls have two more stops on their road trip, starting in Charlotte on Thursday. The Hornets have gone 3-10 in their last 13 games and point guard LaMelo Ball has missed the last three with an ankle injury. It's possible he could return to face the Bulls.
Do the Bulls have any chance at landing an All-Star? Let's try to figure that out.
The East starters will likely include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving and Donovan Mitchell. If Durant doesn't return from an injury, Joel Embiid likely slides in as a starter.
In the West, it's looking like LeBron James will again be the leading vote-getter, joined by Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic.
Whether or not Durant plays will be relevant to the rest of the East roster. His knee injury will be evaluated again in two weeks, so it could go either way.
But Embiid will make the team regardless, so let's start with him in the top six. Because Boston has been atop the East standings for most of the season, Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds) feels like a lock for a reserve spot.
Three other players look pretty solid as East reserves -- Atlanta's Trae Young (27.0 pts, 9.9 asts), New York's Julius Randle (24.6 pts, 10.9 rebs) and Indiana's Tyrese Haliburton (20.2 pts, 10.2 asts).
A player with good numbers, but lagging team success is Toronto's Pascal Siakam (25.2 pts, 8.2 rebs, 6.5 assists). The points are a career-best, but as of Wednesday morning, the Raptors were 12th in the East, two spots behind the Bulls.
Another tough call is Philadelphia's James Harden. He would lead the NBA in assists at 11.2 per game, but has played in just 30 of 46 games.
Sixth-place Miami will get at least one representative between Jimmy Butler (21.6 pts, 2.1 steals) and Bam Adebayo (21.6 pts, 10.2 rebs).
DeRozan (26.2 pts, 4.9 asts) is right there, but will be a close call for one of the reserve spots. Since LaVine got off to a slow start in his return from knee surgery, Nikola Vucevic might have a better all-star argument. Vucevic ranks fifth in the league in rebounds with 11.1 per game, but DeRozan seems to be the only serious all-star candidate from the Bulls.
Stevenson High School grad Jalen Brunson (22.3 pts, 6.2 asts) has given the Knicks a lift since moving over from Dallas, but Randle is probably the more likely New York rep.
Realistically, it might come down to DeRozan or Siakam for the last spot. If Durant or someone else drops out due to injury, maybe they'll both make it. The best guess for East reserves is Embiid, Brown, Young, Randle, Haliburton, Butler or Adebayo, and DeRozan or Siakam.
In the West, four reserves should be automatic -- Memphis' Ja Morant, Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Sacramento's Domantas Sabonis and Portland's Damian Lillard.
New Orleans' Zion Williamson is close to a starting spot in the fan vote, but hasn't played since Jan. 2 due to a hamstring injury. The Clippers are currently fifth in the West, which should put Paul George on the roster. Phoenix's Devin Booker seems likely to get a spot. Memphis' Jaren Jackson Jr., one of the league's better defenders, could also be in the mix.
That puts former Bull Lauri Markkanen right on the fence to be a hometown selection, since the All-Star Game will be held in Salt Lake City on Feb. 19. Markkanen will have a good chance if Williamson doesn't play, or if Portland's poor record hurt Lillard's case.