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.

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.”

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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

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