Zach LaVine on first All-Star game: "I can't wait to get back."

LaVine scored 13 points in his All-Star game debut
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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LaVine scored 13 points, knocked down a pair of threes, and finished an alley-oop lob from halfcourt in his All-Star debut. The Bulls shooting guard expects to be back in the All-Star game years to come.

Zach LaVine came to the NBA All-Star game for the first time.

"It was great," LaVine said. "I think you never really know what it's like until you're there. I think it can only get better from here. It was a great experience, and I can't wait to get back."

Zach LaVine, Sunday, saw the NBA's greatest, MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with 35 points making all his 16 field goal attempts, three-point winner Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard each with eight of 16 three pointers and many from just inside half court, and James Harden hit seven threes.

And LaVine was among them with 13 points, a pair of threes and some lob dunks. "There's multiple guys in this on the same team," LaVine noticed. "So I think it just shows that if you're in the right, winning mindset and guys on the team are playing the right way you can definitely have fun with multiple teammates in the All-Star game. I think that's something you can take away, back to your teammates, ‘Let's get a couple of guys in here next time.'"

Zach LaVine and his so called Team Durant squad didn't come anywhere close to conquering, however, losing their battle in each of the first three stanzas in the independent quarter format and the 70th NBA All-Star game 170-150. "It was not (as painful a loss as to the Trailblazers)," LaVine acknowledged.

LaVine finished with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting in his All-Star debut.

But it sure was fun and just about everything LaVine has long time imagined except, for well you know, the people. The NBA permitted 2,500 spectators in the pandemic wary state, mostly family and friends and not including Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who were exposed, at least potentially to the virus, before arriving. LaVine's parents, fiancee and close personal friend sat courtside across from the team bench, exchanging proud glances and acknowledgements throughout the evening, which included a tie for fourth place in the three-point shooting contest for LaVine. Though nothing for LaVine was going to take away what this day meant.

"It was great to be out there," said LaVine. "I think the recognition is the main thing that you want; the game is the fun part. Go out there and play with the best in the league. That's all there is. Once you reach this, you're of a certain stature. You want to uphold it. Guys have always, obviously, come after you each and every day. But with a certain reputation now you've got to uphold that. You have a target on your back, essentially. I've always played that way. Especially over the last couple of years, I thought I played at an All-Star level. Now you've just got to continue to go out there and show it."

That's for the rest of the Bulls season, which begins Thursday against the Philadelphia 76ers. The status of Embiid and Simmons remains unclear. But this was a long-time-coming celebration for LaVine, who took his deserved place among the game's elite.

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine finishes a lob from James Harden in the first quarter of the All-Star game.

LaVine competed in the three-point contest about an hour before the game and then watched the celebrity-light slam dunk contest at halftime with All-Star teammates. As a two-time champion, contestants—there was only Obi Toppin of New York, Cassius Stanley of Indiana and the G-league and winner Anfernee Simons of Portland—both mimicked past LaVine dunks and came to him during the contest for advice.

"I thought Obi Toppin's first dunk and Cassius Stanley's first dunk were really good," said LaVine. "Cassius Stanley is a guy I thought he was going to win because he dunks like me a little bit, but he missed his second one. Anfernee Simmons put it away. He like kissed the rim; the replay made it look better than I thought it was. It was cool. To have them come over and be like, ‘Hey what should I do?' Obi Toppin said, ‘I'm trying to do the free throw line and dunk like you.' It's kind of cool seeing that I'm in that position now."

Most of all LaVine was in position to earn his way into the All-Star game.

His wasn't a great stat line, but few are in your first game. Michael Jordan, after all, scored seven points in his first All-Star game. LaVine got to play a healthy 28 minutes off the bench, usually paired with Donovan Mitchell as they frequently cooperated for lobs and scores.

Mitchell passed to LaVine for a lob slam dunk in the first quarter when LaVine had seven points.

"I was able to make my first shot," said LaVine about a left wing three. "I think that's something I think a lot of the guys, we were all talking about it. The first-time guys were like, ‘I hope we just make our first shot.' So I was happy about that. But other than that, just going out there with the experience, watching these dudes, especially at the end watching Steph and Dame just pull up from halfcourt. I know they do it against us sometimes in the games, but this was a little extra this time."

That probably was the highlight of the game, the yellow jersey clad Lillard and Curry exchanging threes from a breath inside the half court line just before halftime. Antetokounmpo's perfect mark was basically dunks with an oops banked in three pointer while Lillard had 32 points and Curry 28. Curry and Chris Paul even exchanged lob dunks, Curry hanging on the rim after his with each assisting the other.

There was the usual abundance of dunks, though more actual skill in this game with the threes and a modicum of defense, even a few steals of inbounds passes. Though the NBA tightened the template to avoid the mockery and burlesque of the games in the 2010s, it's not a game as much for competition as entertainment.

It's, nevertheless, probably the most entertaining of the pro sports All-Star games because the personalities of the players can be so much on display with the enthusiasm of players like Curry and Antetokounmpo, the shooting and reactions and the extras like the little man lobs.

Last year in the game in Chicago, the NBA changed to a first-to ending, which made the game more competitive in the final quarter. This year it wasn't so much as the LeBron James-chosen ones team won the first three quarters and carried a 21-point lead into the fourth quarter without the ending quarter time clock. Lillard appropriately ended the game with a 40-foot three pointer.

But there were no losers. And it was a big win for Zach LaVine in the Team Durant blue. Experience, as Caesar once said in his salad days, is the teacher of all things.

Zach LaVine

LaVine finishes a layup over Nikola Jokic.

"It was a lot of fun, man," LaVine said. "I think we did a good job of making our own energy. We needed to shoot a lot more threes, obviously, coming down the stretch to try and make it closer. But at the end of the day, it was fun. I had a great time. I tried to take my open shots. I think it was a lot easier playing at the end of the game because everybody's playing hard. But in the beginning parts, it's really fun and it's so many athletic guys and top tier guys you just try to find your spot to get your shots up and make a play.

"The night was actually really easy," LaVine continued. "We didn't do a lot of extracurricular events because we had to stay in the room. Everything was here in one session. I feel like the day was a little long once you got here because we got here around 3 o'clock. It (then) went by really fast and I'm glad my family was sitting courtside, got some pictures. I enjoyed the experience. Everything stands out.

"If we're in the right position and winning and I'm playing the way I should be and the way I hold myself to a standard, I should be here next year and the following years," LaVine added. "I think the All-Star game and the selection was one step on the right path. I've continued to go out there and prove myself each and every game as one of these top guys. That's what I see myself as.

"I think the team (Bulls) has a good mindset," LaVine said. "Over the last couple of years I think I've established myself as one of the hardest workers and a guy that's very serious about winning. Coach (Billy) Donovan has come in and started to teach us championship habits; so it's not just me. The whole organization has helped along the process. I think we're getting better."

Perhaps eventually to conquer. This was a good start to come and see first.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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