(AP) — The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors have reached the season’s midpoint as perhaps two of the league’s biggest surprises.
In recognition for their success, two Bulls were selected to the All-Star game while the Warriors are sending one to the showcase for the first time in 16 years. Golden State, however, probably feels it deserved two.
Two days after leading the Warriors past the NBA’s top team, Stephen Curry could be poised for another big game by using his All-Star snub as motivation Friday night in Chicago.
Golden State (26-15) is in fifth place in the Western Conference and inching closer to just its second playoff appearance since 1994.
“I’m sure we’re surprising people,” Curry said after Wednesday’s 104-99 win over Oklahoma City.
Curry and David Lee have been instrumental to their success, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson had been campaigning for their inclusion in the All-Star game for the last month.
“Maybe I’ll hold my own game if these two guys aren’t in there,” he said after the duo led Golden State past the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 2.
Jackson didn’t get his wish, as only Lee, who averages 19.6 points, is eighth in rebounding at 10.8 per game and second with 26 double-doubles, was announced as an All-Star reserve on Thursday. He’s the Warriors first since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.
Curry was left out despite ranking eighth in the league in scoring at 20.9 per game, second in 3-pointers with 124 and third in 3-point percentage at 45.1. The Warriors are 19-8 when he scores at least 20 compared to 7-7 in games he doesn’t.
He had 31 against the Thunder, and sealed Golden State’s third straight victory by stealing a pass from Kevin Durant in the final seconds and hitting a pair of free throws.
The Warriors are averaging 108.7 points during their winning streak, and are 23-5 when scoring at least 96. Facing a Chicago team that ranks third in defense at 91.3 points should provide a stiff challenge.
Curry is averaging 21.8 points and 7.5 assists in his last four games against the Bulls with the Warriors winning three.
Chicago (25-16) has won nine of 12 games this month to move percentage points ahead of Indiana for first place in the Central Division – an unexpected position considering star guard Derrick Rose has yet to play due to a torn ACL.
Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have picked up the slack, and Deng and Noah were both rewarded with All-Star nods.
Deng averages 17.4 points and an NBA-best 39.8 minutes, but has missed the last three games with a right hamstring injury and his status is uncertain.
Noah, who averages 12.2 points and ranks seventh in rebounds at 10.9 per game, had 18 boards and made the play of the game in Wednesday’s 85-82 win over Detroit.
After Marco Belinelli missed a 3 in the final 10 seconds, the ball ricocheted toward the row of cameramen and Noah and his 7-foot frame barreled through to save it back to Belinelli, who immediately made a layup and the ensuing free throw for the game’s final margin.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know how he got to it. It was an incredible play,” said Tom Thibodeau, whose team rallied from a 17-point deficit.
With Lee and Noah, it’s not surprising the Warriors and Bulls are two of the league’s top rebounding teams, at 44.7 per game and 43.7, respectively.
Golden State is 21-3 when outrebounding its opponent, the NBA’s third-best mark.
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