Is Boozer's solid stretch putting him in All-Star consideration?

984479.png

Is Boozer's solid stretch putting him in All-Star consideration?

BOSTON The guy has done this, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau insisted Wednesday night, in the bowels of Torontos Air Canada Centre, before injecting a dose of sarcasm into his response. There are tapes of what hes done.

Thibodeau was talking about Carlos Boozer, who scored 36 points, his highest point total in a Bulls uniform, to go along with 12 rebounds in the teams overtime road win. When a reporter briefly interrupted to indicate that Thibodeau meant Boozers current stretch was comparable to the much-maligned power forwards tenure in Utah, the coach rapidly replied, Hes done it for us, too.

That may be the case, but between various injuries, postseason struggles, the currently-sidelined Derrick Roses brilliance overshadowing all of his teammates, the widely-held perception that less offensively-gifted Bulls play with more passion on both ends of the floor and perhaps most significantly, his massive contract, Boozer has and will be an easy target.

But since the calendar year changed, Boozer has been recognized for his contributions. In the Bulls eight games in 2013, Boozer is averaging 24 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, something that stands out on a frequently scoring-deficient squad, as well as appearing more energized on the defensive end of the floor.

Just playing, man. Playing off my teammates, hooping, having fun, trying to win. Its that simple. Theres no new recipe to it, explained Boozer, who is loath to discuss his individual performance, even when hes played well and the Bulls win. I feel pretty confident.

I was just joking, he continued, when queried about his so-called New Years resolution, which he mentioned after the Bulls Jan. 2 win in Orlando, their first game of 2013. The biggest thing is the team is getting wins and how we finished the last two weeks of 2012, it wasnt our best basketball.

Weve still got a little room to improve. Were going to keep striving for perfection and keep getting better, Boozer, who scored 25 first-half points Wednesday, went on to say. It was a tough end of 2012 and I think, as a man, we all want to play much better in 2013 and get more wins, and so far, were doing pretty good in January.

While Boozer might downplay talk of his recent uptick, the rest of the Bulls are quick to credit him for being the teams catalyst as of late, as they are noticeably looking for him on the floor.

He can score a lot of different ways. I think right now, hes in a really good rhythm, Thibodeau said. His teammates are really searching him out.

Joakim Noah, who critics initially asserted wasnt a good match with Boozer, chemistry-wise, chimed in: 'Los is playing at a real, real high level right now. Weve just got to keep searching him out right now because hes been dominant for a while now. Hes playing with a lot of confidence and weve just got to keep giving him the ball.

Rip Hamilton, like Boozer, a former two-time All-Star, prior to arriving in Chicago, added: All day. I think the last month, hes been incredible. I think were doing a better job of getting him the ball where hes comfortable. Weve got a lot of new pieces, a lot of new players and Thibs is adjusting on the fly, trying to figure out what different guys roles are, so were learning each and every day. But hes been great the last month. Hes been playing extraordinary.

Fellow starting forward and Duke product Luol Deng observed: Boozers great. we need it. Hes just got to keep it up. Were going to keep looking for him or keep going to him. Hes playing well for us right now and when we get points in the paint like that, it makes the game a lot easier.

Boozers recent play is also drawing national attention. Thursday night, the starters for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game were announced on TNT and when the television analysts selected their reserve picks, Charles Barkley selected Boozer to his Eastern Conference team, over Noah, who was named to the teams of the other analysts: Kenny Smith, Shaquille ONeal and Chris Webber, who also selected Deng.

That was a very difficult decision for me, Barkley explained. Carlos Boozer has been balling lately. I couldnt get both of them, so I rewarded Boozer for having a terrific career.

If Boozer continues to play at his current level for the remainder of January and into early February, when the reserves will be selected, it may indeed pose a dilemma for the All-Star Game, as one would assume that the fourth-place Bulls will have at least one representative in Houston next month.

But with Boozer playing so well even as Deng, the teams leading scorer, having a better campaign than he did last season, when he made his first All-Star Game, and Noah, a fan favorite, enjoying a career-best season thus far the man that many Chicagoans love to hate could at least have an outside chance.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Joe Maddon breaks down Wade Davis vs. Aroldis Chapman as Cubs ramp up for another World Series run

Rick Hahn: White Sox 'still thoroughly, deeply engaged' in trade talks as meetings close

Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook out vs. Rangers

Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls

Bears, Lions have been totally different teams in fourth quarters

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Blackhawks improve faceoffs in Jonathan Toews’ absence

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour