The Chicago Bulls ended the unofficial first half of the season with a 27-8 mark and will send two players, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, and head coach Tom Thibodeau and his staff to represent the team at the 2012 NBA All-Star Game Sunday night in Orlando, Fla.
Rose, who was voted into the midseason exhibition game by the fans as a starter, played his second consecutive game on Wednesday night when the Bulls thrashed the Milwaukee Bucks 110-91, and, most importantly, the reigning league MVP reported no issues with his back before or after the game. In fact, he told reporters beforehand that he doesn't "feel any pain in my back" and that, as expected, he will participate in the annual showcase game at Amway Arena.
"My back's feeling good. I'm not worrying about it anymore," said Rose, who dropped 16 points and seven assists against the Bucks.
The 23-year-old point guard's dislike for pickup games has been well-documented, but he still takes great pride in performing in front of fans in the star-studded contest that is an important aspect of every NBA season. Rose had missed five games in a row due to lower back spasms and said he will receive help stretching from "whoever is down there."
While Rose will make his third straight All-Star appearance, it will be Deng's first. The veteran small forward said he has not set plans yet and is simply looking to go and enjoy himself. In the meantime, he has asked teammates and friends around the league about the experience of being a first-ever All-Star. In past years when multiple players from the same team are selected to the game, it's fairly common for them to spend some time together during the events on Friday and Saturday night, too.
"I'm excited," Deng told the assembled media. "I'm looking forward to it. I'm glad our coaching staff's going."
Joining Thibodeau on the Eastern Conference sideline will most likely be assistant coaches Ron Adams, Adrian Griffin, Andy Greer and Ed Pinckney. Thibodeau served as an assistant in two All-Star Games, most recently in 2008 as Doc Rivers' associate when that Boston Celtics' staff coached the East, and is confident his experiences will help him balance his workload.
"The All-Star Game is a great event for the league, by the league," he told reporters before Wednesday's win. "It's for the fans, so it's a great event. It's an honor to be there. But my priority is with the Bulls and I can manage to do both."
Room for improvements: The Bulls are among the best squads in the league but know they have plenty of work to do during the second half of the season. Wednesday's contest marked the fifth of a six-game homestand that will come to an end Tuesday night against the New Orleans Hornets.
The Bulls' have been erratic on both ends of the court in their last five games. For them, it all starts defensively, and they have allowed 92.4 points per game during that span -- obviously an average that doesn't sit well with Thibodeau. Offensively, they connected on a paltry 38.6 percent from the field in Monday night's 90-79 win over the Atlanta Hawks. On Wednesday, Chicago shot 54.4 percent from the field while piling up 32 assists on 43 baskets.
Thibodeau believes the Bulls need to clean up on defense and play at a more quicker pace and exhibit better spacing on offense. Kyle Korver's 11-point effort against the Bucks was certainly a welcome sight for the team. The veteran sharpshooter had missed 11 of his last 12 three-point attempts, and although he shot 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, he went 5-for-8 from the field.
"There were some good things," Thibodeau told reporters. "Obviously, there's a lot of things we can improve upon. From the start of camp, we've strived for improvement each and every day. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end."
Added Carlos Boozer: "[We are] still getting better, but I think we're in a good place. I like where we're at right now. Hopefully we get a chance to get a little bit of rest over the break, hopefully get Rip [Hamilton] back in a little healthier. Guys get a chance to rest their bodies and come back for the finish."
Squashed rumors: Over the course of this season, Rose has repeatedly said he will not get involved in recruiting players. Instead, he's a firm believer in the team as currently constructed and in allowing Bulls' front office, namely both executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, to do their job and that the allure of Chicago speaks for itself.
Yet, multiple media outlets reported Sunday that Rose let it be known to Bulls management that he would sign off on a deal that would send Boozer and a role player or two, such as C.J. Watson or Korver, to the Los Angeles Lakers for Pau Gasol. It was a farfetched trade scenario from the start -- one that plenty of Bulls fans did not buy, although it certainly would have helped the team -- and Rose himself put an end to the rumors before the win over the Bucks.
"I heard it after [Monday's] game. That's something I wouldn't say to anybody, that I need someone to come to this team or I'm trying to get rid of someone on this team," he said. "It was all false and that's something I'll never do.
"I'm good with the teammates I have. I've always been saying that. The team that we have has been winning team. We're not in position to look to trade anyone right now."