Big Ten

Bulls look to repeat last matchup with Cavs tonight on CSN

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Bulls look to repeat last matchup with Cavs tonight on CSN

After suffering through its worst offensive performance of the early season -- a 76-point effort in a loss to the Pacers last night -- the Bulls return to the spot where they enjoyed their best performance when they travel to Cleveland for a matchup with the Cavaliers tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live.

On Nov. 2, Tom Thibodeau's group traveled to Cleveland for its first road game of the year, and shot better than 63 percent from the field in a 115-86 win. Five players scored in double-digits, and four more scored 8 or 9 points in the Bulls' largest win of the season. Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer led the way with 19 points apiece, while Nate Robinson added 16 points off the bench.

Helping in Chicago's return to Cleveland tonight is that the Cavaliers are hurting. Point guard Kyrie Irving, who led the Cavs with 15 points in the previous matchup, is out with a broken finger, and rookie Dion Waiters, who scored 7 points in November but has improved since, is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. He is a game-time decision tonight, leaving Cleveland's backcourt thin for tonight's matchup.

Perhaps evening the playing field, however, will be Hamilton's absence. The Bulls' second-leading scorer suffered a torn plantar fascia on Saturday against Philadelphia, and will miss a week or more of action. Though Hamilton averaged 27.1 minutes per game, his numbers were missed last night as the Bulls shot just 38 percent from the field and received 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting from plug-in starter Marco Belinelli (5 points) and Jimmy Butler (4 points).

With the Bulls attempting to figure out their backcourt struggles -- starter Kirk Hinrich scored 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting the last three games -- they've relied on their frontcourt for scoring to complement leading scorer Luol Deng, namely Joakim Noah. The 6-foot-11 center has maintained his career-best pace in the scoring department (13.0 points on 10.5 field goal attempts) and he'll have his hands full against Cavs' center Anderson Varejao. The 30-year-old leads the league in rebounding (15.4 per game) and while his blocks are down he's improved his defense, which has been his calling card since he entered the league eight seasons ago. Noah had 10 points in the Nov. 2 meeting, while Varejao had his lowest rebounding total, five, in the blowout loss.

Yet Varejao has picked things up on the offensive end in Irving's and Waiters' absences, averaging 18.2 points on better than 56 percent shooting. Noah will have his hands full against the Cavs' new go-to option.

Though Varejao has improved on both ends, the Cavaliers have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league. To date, Cleveland is allowing opponents to shoot better than 48 percent from the field, the highest mark in the NBA, and 101.2 points, 25th worst in the league. If there's one team for the Bulls to get going against offensively, it's the injury-riddled Cavs.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”