No easy choices for All-Star reserves

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No easy choices for All-Star reserves

The reserves for Feb. 26s All-Star Game in Orlando will be announced Thursday and as usual, there are sure to be some snubs. Since the leagues coaches, who are consumed with their own teams, vote for the exhibitions reserves, there are usually some dubious choices among the annual selections.

But in this lockout-shortened season, theres an opportunity to rectify, at least once, the process. Perennial participants like 2011 Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki are off to slow starts, while up-and-coming young players are having breakout seasons.

The starters for each conferences team, including Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, have already been voted in by the fans, but there will be much debate as to the other players who deserve the honor.

In the Eastern Conference, Indianas Roy Hibbert is the clear-cut choice to back up Orlandos Dwight Howard at center, as his Pacers have shown marked improvement and his rebounding along with Frank Vogels insistence on an inside-out offensive philosophy have been a major reason why. Backing up Miamis LeBron James and New Yorks Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt, Atlantas Josh Smith, often maligned as inconsistent, has ensured that the Hawks remain a projected playoff team, even without frontcourt partner Al Horford, whos out for the season, should make his All-Star debut, while Miamis Chris Bosh, who receives frequent criticism for his lack of toughness inside, has put up stellar numbers this season, especially Wade was out of the lineup, is also deserving of a nod.

In the backcourt, there are two guards who should be locks behind starters Rose and Miamis Dwyane Wade: Bostons Rajon Rondo and surprisingly to some, Milwaukees Brandon Jennings, whose Bucks host the Bulls Saturday night. While the aging Celtics dont exactly resemble a contender at this early juncture of the NBA campaign, Rondo has been their best player and has improved as a scoring threat, while Jennings, after battling the sophomore blues a year ago, has kept the Bucks afloat with his dynamic scoring and playmaking and although New Jerseys Deron Williams may have the experience and better resume, Jennings is doing more with a similar amount of talent in his supporting cast, given that swingman Stephen Jackson doesnt appear fully motivated and center Andrew Bogut continues to struggle with injuries.

Meanwhile, Philadelphias versatile Andre Iguodala is the most recognizable player on a balanced 76ers team that has surprised many observers this season and while his scoring numbers are pedestrian, the Sixers, who currently lead the Atlantic Division over the more highly-touted Celtics and Knicks by a wide margin, deserve a representative. The final spot on the East team is a tough choice, but though his chances to make his All-Star debut have been derailed by a recent left-wrist injury, when examining his impact for the Bulls, a case could be made that Luol Deng is more deserving than the likes of Bostons Paul Pierce the Celtics have regressed and he got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season with his own injury woes for the East.

Although hes picked up his play as of late, Pierce got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season due to his own injury woes, but the Celtics have regressed, the grizzled veteran has had more than enough chances to represent the Celtics in the annual affair, he could use the rest, Rondo will give Boston a player in the game, and Boston simply doesnt deserve multiple players honored this season. If, for whatever reason, any of the starters or other reserves are unable to play, Torontos Andrea Bargnani, despite his Raptors woeful record, should be the first alternate considered after Pierce and Williams.

The Western Conference is a bit easier to call, as Memphis Marc Gasol who looks like the better Gasol brother on a more frequent basis these days is an easy choice as the backup to the Lakers Andrew Bynum. Behind starting forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and the Thunders Kevin Durant, last seasons biggest snub, Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge should be rewarded, along with the man who likely took his spot in Los Angeles last year, Minnesotas Kevin Love.

The final frontcourt spot is a bit tougher to decide, but as well as Denver has been playing, the Nuggets Danilo Gallinari should be rewarded for leading the way on a deep, balanced team; similar to the Sixers, Denver looks like a true contender in its conference, but the contributions of Gallo are easier to qualify than Iguodalas. Other candidates for the position include Lakers big man Pau Gasol (while rumors of the Lakers demise have been greatly exaggerated, Gasol is admittedly having a down year), Memphis Rudy Gay (the athletic forward has done well in making up for the absence of the injured Zach Randolph, but the Grizzlies have still underachieved in general) or the Utah combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who are too close in production to make the call for the improved Jazz.

The guards in the West should also see some new faces in Houstons Kyle Lowry, who is quietly having an amazing season for new head coach Kevin McHales overachieving Rockets, and Golden States Monta Ellis, who is averaging a career-high in assists and is probably the best player in the league to havent ever received an All-Star bid. The final choice to back up Staples Center co-dwellers Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul in the backcourt is a no-brainer: Oklahoma Citys Russell Westbrook, who is almost as responsible for the Thunders success as superstar teammate Durant, with familiar faces Steve Nash of Phoenix (still leading the league in assists, but his Suns mediocrity cant be ignored) and San Antonios Tony Parker, once again having a solid year.

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

Bulls Road Ahead: Keeping the momentum rolling

Bulls Road Ahead: Keeping the momentum rolling

The Bulls are currently playing their best basketball of the year, winning four straight, including three against Eastern Conference contenders.

How will Fred Hoiberg's group continue this pace during a daunting March schedule? Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski break it down from the Advocate Center in this edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

Check it all out in the video above.