Will Deng finally garner All-Star recognition?

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Will Deng finally garner All-Star recognition?

BOSTON You saw it. I told you, man, Lus definitely going to make the All-Star team, Derrick Rose said Friday night. If he doesnt, that would be cheating, man. That would be cheating, for sure.

Its hard to argue with Roses logic, especially after Dengs recent play. While his scoring numbers are slightly down from last season as are Roses the fact that hes indispensable to the Bulls is more evident than ever.

And what you could say about Luol? I mean, every night, hes on the board, he gives you points, he plays great defense, hits every big basket for you cant say enough about him, lauded Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who watched Deng guard Celtics perennial All-Star small forward and future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, who Thibodeau used to coach in Boston, into a 3-for-12 shooting night. Pauls a tough, tough competitor. He puts a lot of pressure on you. Lu guards everybody. He guards twos, he guards threes, he guards fours. He gets in there, he battles with the bigs. He comes up with loose balls, big rebounds and those are winning plays. Thats how you win in this league. He doesnt shy away from stuff. Again, its great leadership.

For Dengs part, he refused to be read too much into his defensive performance against Pierce or whether he finally receives national recognition for his efforts.

Paul, I really have a lot of respect for Paul. Ive watched him a lot and when Im working on my game, I really watch a lot of stuff he does. Whenever I play Paul, I just try to make it hard for him. The thing that always gets me is his pump fake and we were talking about it, and I think every game I played him in my career, I think he got me with a pump fake and he still gets me every time. Hes just a great player, he said. Honestly, Im not worried about that. Thats the honest truth. Im not really worried about whether people talk about me or not. Im really happy Im playing with a bunch of guys that love playing together and it just makes me a better player. Im just excited tonight. I cant even wait for Saturday, to play again and thats the kind of group we have.

The first returns of All-Star balloting came out this weekand Deng ranked seventh in fan voting one spot behind Pierce with 85,086 votes, nowhere close to enough to be selected as an Eastern Conference starter. However, if Thibodeau has anything to say about it, Dengs contributions wont go unrewarded.

Said the coach, who's prone to playing the South Sudanese small forward workhorse minutes: Hes not overlooked by his coaches and his teammates. We know how important he is to the team and he does it night in, night out. Even the nights on which he doesnt shoot the ball well, he still does so many things that help you win. Hes done everything for us.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

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Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

High School Lites basketball roundup: Week 1

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

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USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”